What are habits? Habits are the small decisions you make and behaviors you engage in every day. They are the choices you deliberately made at some point, and then ceased to think of, but continue doing often and on a daily basis. You know that coffee you have in the morning? At some point you consciously decided that was your choice of drink every morning, to the point that you no longer had to make a decision, and the behavior became automatic.
Why are habits important? According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of your behavior on any given day! So in a sense we can argue that about half of your life is spent performing different habits. This means that fundamental elements of your life like your weight, your bank account, and your happiness, are all results of your habits!
What you repeatedly do, i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day, shapes the person you are, the things you believe, and the character you portray. Though it might be true that elements of your character were inherited from your parents, your way of being in the world today starts with your habits, and those habits shape how you approach your own life everyday. Will Durant, who was an American writer, historian and philosopher wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Powerful!
If you want to optimize your days, it follows that you would want to identify the primary components of a habit. Many researchers have proved that the process of creating a habit is a three-step loop, and it goes like this:
1. Reminder (the cue/ trigger/ stimuli that initiates the behavior)
2. Routine (the behavior itself, what you do, the act, the thought)
3. Reward (the advantage you gain from doing the behavior)
As an example of a common habit, let’s look at the process of answering one’s door:
1. Reminder - Doorbell sounds, triggering you to walk towards the door.
2. Routine - You open the door.
3. Reward - Now you know who was there. (and hopefully it’s a welcomed guest).
To simplify habit formation for a moment, we can say that if you want to create new habits, you have to figure out your “Reminders” and “Rewards”, and then create your new “Routines.”
But how do we create new habits?
One of the ways to start a new habit is by using already existing habits. You need to build on existing reminders, or cues of your current habits to make the process of creating a new habit more automatic. For example, if you want to start eating oatmeal instead of sugary cereal in the morning, it’s best if you put the oatmeal packet by your coffee machine the night before. This creates a new routine, as you’re already using the cue of the coffee by pairing it with the oatmeal. Now, eating the oatmeal has its clear reward of knowing you are treating your body more kindly and becoming healthier. What’s left then is for your brain to reinforce this new habit, as the brain will start craving that ‘good feeling’ that comes from knowing you are accomplishing a goal you wished to be doing.. As simple as it might seem, moving the oatmeal packet the night before will help you greatly in making the ‘right decision’ as to what to eat that morning. Since in essence, it actually takes the decision making process out of your breakfast routine. This routine now sets the stage for this new, automated habit of having oatmeal in the morning instead of cereal.
You see, small changes in your behavior will reinforce the belief that you can change. This is a very important ingredient to any habit formation. Much more can be written on habit formation, but for now, go and find a desired small habit you wish to instill, and take action to create it.