Habits

habit1

[hab-it] 

noun

1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has becomealmost involuntary:

the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.

2. customary practice or use:

Daily bathing is an American habit.

3. a particular practice, custom, or usage:

the habit of shaking hands.

4. a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character orquality:

She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.

5. addiction, especially to narcotics (often preceded by the). 

6.mental character or disposition:

a habit of mind.

Good habits are hard to come by.

Habits are a strange and unusual thing, they are largely involuntary and unnoticed by the person doing them. So in large part most of what we consider habit is mischaracterized because we actively acknowledge we are doing it. Our miss-use of the word is very similar to how badly we use the word ironic. Other mischaracterizations is the confusion between addiction and habit. Although habits can lead to addictions they are separate and unique issues. You can find all sorts of programs that indicate habit forming takes about 30 day but it is suggested that it can take 18-254 days just reinforcing how little we actually know about habits. 

Cue --> Routine --> Reward

The formation of all habits is said to have three stages. The "Cue" stage is the trigger for the action so in this case the cue is wake up. Once you wake up you enter routine go make coffee and then the reward is caffeine of increased alertness. Not all include explicit chemical rewards from outside the body most are accompanied by a release from the basal ganglia of the brain. So if you think the coffee is what is making you happy those days might be long past and all that remains is a reward from your brain, how crazy is that? It's all weird and I'm conducting a survey to develope an app on habits and if you click on this link you'd be doing me a favor! 

Good Habits

There aren't many people in the world that would turn down a good habit but even our understanding of what a good habit isn't clearly defined. We can agree getting sleep, eating right and exercise to be good habits. But all three on there own have a wide range what can be defined as healthy and good. Perhaps the healthiest habits are the ones where we attempt to avoid more clearly defined bad habits?

Bad Habits

I personally think most people find it easier to define the negative rather than the positive. When I was searching the internet for thoughts and lists on habits the majority that came up for "list of habits"  were negative or held a negative connotation, biting nails, slouching, eating too much. And this may be one of the problems we have when dealing with bad habits. Maybe we think our bad actions can be replaced by a good one but most sources seem to indicate just as the expression goes you need to "break" a bad habit, not just add a good one. Also it could just be it's easier for people to classify the negative. 

 Behavior

When looking at what some have said are habits of successful people it's pretty clear you can't operate on all of them all the time. Taking risks and saying no are two examples of habits of successful people, and impossible operators to be used on a daily basis unless saying no is your risk taking. I would also like to say that taking risks and saying no are really more behaviors than habits and one can learn a behavior but the behavior operates outside of the Cue, Routine , Reward architecture. Most easily a behavior is a reaction and can happen at any time where as a habit has a preexisting set trigger and reaction.

Addiction

Addiction can sometimes be a result of a habit. Once a habit becomes an addiction it is clear that the habit was a bad one. By definition you cannot have a healthy addiction, it's like cancer no one gets a cancer they are happy about same with addiction. Addiction is well known to most of us but not really understood. It follows the Cue, Routine, Reward but the cue is often replaced by withdrawal. Smokers often think the onset of stress is a cue, but it is actually stress + withdrawal  and more often than not it is the withdrawal that triggers the stress. An example is the celebratory cigarette, if it's a stress response then why does this exist? In most chemical addictions you can find this behavior. 

 

Changing Behavior to Alter Your Habits

There is no silver bullet, or magical formula. Repetition is key and the only way to change your habits. But reminders and using a preexisting schedule can help. If you get up at 6:30 and you want to begin walking before work you have to make several changes but an alarm clock is a powerful cue that you can use to adjust. Resetting it to 6 and allow for the extra time is only one stage you must begin to make the association that the alarm means you are going for a walk and not just waking up.   

Habits are no a small piece but are usually part of a system so if you think about them that way you are much more likely to to succeed. And not all positive habits has and immediate response, you might have to give yourself a pep talk after eating a bowl of raw broccoli before it becomes something burned into your neural pathways. 

Check out this survey and help me develop an new app for changing habits!