What are habits?

Let's have a look at the actions we perform every day, also called habits. What are they? And why and how do we form habits?

What are habits? Habits are automated behavior that we perform in response to certain situations. It’s the things we do almost without thinking about them - e.g. washing hands, tying shoelace, or checking our phone.

Why do we have habits? Habits allow us to do things without having to think about them. It’s kind of an “autopilot mode” that saves mental energy so that we may focus on things that require us to think, reason, and problem solve.

Actually, about 70 % of what we do on a daily basis is automated in some way.

But how do habits work? To help explain this, let’s have a look at the habit of looking at our phone and the so called Habit Loop:

First there’s a “Cue”. This is something that triggers the behavior to unfold rather automatically. The cue can be anything that we experience - from a visual stimuli to a feeling.

E.g. we may hear a notification sound on our phone or experience a sense of boredom. These can both trigger the habit of checking our phone.

The second part of the habit loop is the “Routine”. This is the behavior of the habit itself.

E.g. the routine of the habit of checking one's phone can be the actual behavior of reaching out for the phone, reading the notification message and going through different apps.

The last part of habit loop is the “Reward”. This is the effect or the end goal of performing a habit.

E.g. we might feel gratification after checking our phone. It could be in the form of satisfaction by taking a little break from whatever we're doing - or by keeping up to date with things like our mail inbox or social media notifications.

Why does the habit loop repeat itself? The reward is a big reason for that. Receiving a reward after performing a certain behavior helps the mind associate a cue with a reward. E.g. phone = feel good.

And this motivates us to perform our habits. In other words, the next time we encounter the cue we will then anticipate something pleasant to happen which can trigger the behavior, which again can result in getting a reward.

Over time, with repetition, these steps will become more and more automated. And that’s how a habit will develop and loop.

Check out other articles I've written:

How to trigger a new habit

How to trigger a new habit

Learn more about setting up triggers in your everyday life to boost the chances of implementing the habit you want to build.

How to break a habit

How to break a habit

Changing our old behaviors can at the same time seem quite simple and super tricky. Here's how to let go of unwanted habits by using mindfulness.

Habit stacking

Habit stacking

What is habit stacking? And how can we use it to help implement new behaviors in our everyday life?

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