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Last Updated on May 2, 2019

What Is a Habit? Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%

What Is a Habit? Understand Your Habits to Control Them 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?”

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.

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’.  

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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:

  • 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?

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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.

Applying one of the 7 Cornerstone Skills — Habit, as covered in this article can already make a difference in your life, imagine learning the whole set of skills to live your best life!

If you want to discover ways to control your habits, and many more carefully crafted Cornerstone Skills, start a life-changing journey with us here!

Understanding these concepts will guarantee you’ll find the transformation you need to help you achieve what you’re looking for.

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 October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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