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.
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.
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 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, 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’.
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:
- How do you walk?
- Do you tend to slouch or sit/stand straight?
- How much water do you drink each day?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!
Here’s how to take control of your habits:
- How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You
- 11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits
- How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop
Featured photo credit: Ben O’Sullivan via unsplash.com