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Last Updated on December 9, 2020

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

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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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