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What Is a Habit? Understand It to Control It 100%

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What Is a Habit? Understand It to Control It 100%

What is a habit? Well, everyone has habits, whether they’re good or bad ones!

You started forming habits since a very young age, whether it’s sucking on your thumb as a baby, taking a nap every afternoon after school as a kid, or leaving the lights and tv on when you leave a room.

Or what about the morning coffee that you have to have before your day can start? Without that cup, you’ll be struggling to get your act together, or put your mind to work. And once that coffee kicks in, your engine is suddenly revved up and ready to go!

These behaviors form a part of our everyday routine whether we like it or not. See the power of a habit?

Take a moment and try to list out some of your more prominent habits. Now, decide whether or not these are habits you actually like having!

Unfortunately, we know that not all habits do us good. Thankfully, many of us recognize a need to get rid of the bad habits, or to cultivate new good habits; and that’s how we end up either actively seeking answers through self help books, the internet, advice from friends and family or even hiring counselors and life coaches to steer us in the right direction.

Do these solutions actually work? It’s especially hard to change habits that you’ve had for years and grown so accustomed that you barely realize their existence: constantly taking your phone out to check for notifications; reaching for a packet of chips or slice of cake every night when you turn on the TV… the list goes on.

How Do Habits Form?

So, what is a habit? Before we can take any action to alter those unwanted habits or create new ones, we need to know what a habit really is.

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Your brain has two distinct modes of decision making. To make things simple, we’ll call it System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is an automatic, fast and usually subconscious way of thinking. It is autonomous and efficient, requiring little energy or attention. For example, when you’re driving a car or walking to work, you automatically know how to get there without having to think or refer to any external help. It comes naturally to you.

System 2 on the other hand, is a conscious, intentional and controlled way of thinking.  It requires energy and effort to sustain attention. For example, it could be researching and weighing different career options, or coming up with a new recipe for dinner.

Both Systems 1 and 2 work together. How it works is that your brain naturally chooses the lazy solution first whenever there is a problem faced, as it tends to try to save energy to avoid overprocessing. If it cannot find a solution using System 1, then it will move over to System 2. It’s how your brain learns and maps patterns together to handle daily decision making.

So, the key path to building any habit, is to go from System 2 to System 1.

The Process of Forming New Habits

Here’s an example–let’s say you want to start learning a new instrument.

In the beginning, your brain would not have formed any patterns or relationships. Everything is new, so to play your first song you would be relying heavily on System 2 — painstakingly thinking through each action and each step.

Now, as you practice, the action is repeated regularly and your brain starts connecting relationships between your actions. Eventually, these connections go from simple pathways into superhighways of relationships.

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In the end, you will perform almost automatically and effortlessly most of the actions that were at first complicated. You’re now using System 1 to play the instrument. This is how all new habits form.

You now have a good idea of what habits are and how they form. But, before you can start taking control of breaking or forming habits, let me ask you this question:

“Do you even know what your habits are?”

Read on to learn about the types of habits you may have.

Two Types of Habits

There are two types of habits: conscious habits and hidden habits.

Conscious Habits

Conscious habits are habits that are easy to recognize. Usually, they require conscious input for you to keep them up. If you remove that input or attention, the habit would most likely go away. It’s easy to identify these conscious habits and you can quickly review them yourself.

Examples of conscious habits include waking up to an alarm every morning, going for an evening run or workout everyday, or smoking after a meal.

Hidden Habits

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that our brains have already turned into auto-pilot mode. These are much more tricky because we are generally completely unaware of them until some external factor or source reveals it, such as someone pointing out your behavior to you. So, it can be difficult to identify hidden habits just by a general review.

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Yet, hidden habits make up majority of our habits! They have become internalized and ingrained into our lifestyle and decision making process, so you almost don’t realize it when a habit is ‘acting up’.

How to Identify Your Hidden Habits

There are a wide range of possible hidden habits. To self-identify, you need to direct your attention and zoom in.

For example, to see what types of hidden habits you can reveal, try answering the following questions:

Physical Habits:

  • How do you walk?
  • Do you tend to slouch or sit/stand straight?
  • How much water do you drink each day?

Social Habits:

  • Do you make or avoid eye contact with people?
  • Are there actions or gestures you tend to use a lot?
  • What phrases or words do you tend to say a lot?

Energy Habits:

  • What patterns do you follow each night right before bed?
  • What’s your morning wake up routine each day?
  • How often and when do you snack during the day?

Mental Habits (your automatic thought processes):

  • What’s your first gut response when you receive criticism?
  • What feeling do you get when you see a friend sharing a luxury vacation on Facebook?
  • How do you react to a negative news story?

Productivity Habits:

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  • Do you prioritize a set of tasks before starting, or just dive in?
  • How do you judge if a task is more important than another?
  • How often do you check your phone every hour for new notifications? Or email?

If you don’t mind, you can even ask your partner, family member or close friends the same questions about yourself. They may just point out certain things about you that you never realized!

Time to Take Control

Now that you’ve hopefully identified some of your hidden habits, would you like to know how to get rid of the unwanted ones, so that you need not be tortured by them anymore?

Don’t let your habits slow you down, or prevent you from achieving your full potential in life! Whether it be your career or personal development, bad habits can hinder your productivity and happiness.

On the contrary, good habits can boost your efficiency, and help you to look, feel and be better!

Take a look at these 7 ways to get rid of bad habits:

And here’s how to take control of your habits:

Featured photo credit: Ben O’Sullivan via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 27, 2022

5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

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5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

The environment of a typical office or a quiet library may sometimes lessen your productivity as the unchanging views fail to stimulate your senses and keep your brain running. If you are the kind that dislikes absolute silence or minimal noise when working, these unexpected places to work may boost your productivity level!

1. Coffee shops

Research has shown that an adequate amount of ambient noise stimulates your senses and keeps you alert. Where else better to find some chatter and clatter to boost your creative juices? Working in the coffee shop also guarantees something else: unlimited supplies of caffeine!

Caffeine wakes you up by fooling adenosine receptors and speeds transmitting activities up in your nerve cells.If you do decide to try this place out, make sure that your work computer is facing the coffee shop customers so you will be less likely to procrastinate or go to inappropriate sites because people are secretly watching you.

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If your workplace requires you to be in the office, try this website and/or phone app that provides you with sounds from coffee shops around the world. Want to work at a cafe in Paris? No problem, it’s just a button away.

2. Cafeterias

Similar to coffee shops, company cafeteria or food courts provide consistent noise and the smell of food. The aroma of food makes you look forward to your next break and should motivate you to complete your work.

The act of eating likewise keeps your brain alert and produces dopamine. But make sure only to snack and stay around 60% full so that each bite is rewarding and invigorating. Snacking every 90 minutes should keep your brain balanced enough to focus on the work at hand.

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3. Empty University Classrooms  

Whether or not you’re an university student, we have all been a student at some point in our lives. And when you’re in a classroom, your brain is primed to stay focused because you have been conditioned to concentrate in class. In comparison to your bedroom, where your brain is primed to relax, sleep and have fun, the environment of the classroom triggers your memory to stay alert (unless you never listened in class) and work.

If you do decide to try working in an empty university classroom, be sure to bring a studious friend. Once you see that your friend or coworker is working hard, you would feel guilty for procrastinate and be more competitive.

Ever heard of environmental context-dependent memory? Research has shown that environmental context influences the way we encode information. If you study in the same place you first learned the material, your chances of recalling the information are significantly increased. Use environmental cues to your advantage so you spend less time doing more work!

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4. Outdoors

Fresh air, sunlight, cool breeze. Talk about getting your vitamin Ds the natural way. A healthy body is crucial to being productive. If you have a porch, use it to maximize your productivity!

On a cool day, the crisp air is good for waking your brain up. If your work station is indoors and poorly ventilated, the build up of carbon dioxide will cause your brain to be less active, hence, less productive. Try to bring some work to a park nearby or an unsheltered town square where you are exposed to the sun. Fresh air will vitalize your brain and the warm sunlight will bring a smile to your face.

5. The Shower 

Many people experience their “Aha!” moments when they’re in the shower. Why is that? The hot water helps with circulation and improves blood flow to your brain, giving it more oxygen and nourishment to break down your work block.

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If you aren’t motivated to work or feeling bored, a good shower will not only open up your pores, but also give your brain a boost of energy. Keep a waterproof white board and markers in the washroom so you will never lose those wonderful ideas again!

Featured photo credit: Thomas Franke via unsplash.com

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