Whether we have healthy habits or bad habits our habits shape our lives. Habits shape our attitudes, actions, and decision-making abilities. They affect every facet of our lives. But do you know what a habit really is?
A habit is a tendency to do something, whether it’s healthy or not.
Habits are driven by reward-seeking mechanisms in the brain. They are often triggered by something specific. For instance, walking past a coffee shop and smelling coffee beans can trigger you to want a cup. Feeling stressed at work can trigger you to smoke a cigarette. Forming habits is the brain’s way of being more efficient. As far as the brain is concerned, the more tasks you can complete without wasting time thinking about them, the better.
Habits are interesting in that they can form planned or unplanned. For instance, brushing your teeth before bed is a habit that was probably taught to you as a child. As an adult, it’s an automatic action. However, some habits are intentionally formed. Replacing a nightly glass of wine with tea or water is an intentional choice.
The Habit Loop
Something to keep in mind about the habit-forming process is that it doesn’t happen now and then. It happens all the time, every moment of your life. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” says that the core of every lasting habit is a psychological pattern called the ‘habit loop.’ The habit look is a four-step pattern that all habits proceed through. These four stages are always the same and happen in the same order:
Cue/Trigger – The cue is your first sign that you’re close to a reward. This step triggers your brain to start a behavior. This leads to the second step: craving.
Craving – Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit. They give you a reason to act. But what you’re craving isn’t the habit itself—you’re craving the change in state you get from the habit. You crave a glass of wine because it brings a sense of calm, or you crave wearing a seatbelt because it makes you feel safe. Cravings stem from the desire to change your internal state.
Response – The response is the habit you perform. This depends on how motivated you are and how challenging it is to perform the behavior. If an action requires more effort than you’re willing to put in, you won’t do it.
Reward – This is the goal of every habit. The cue notices the reward, the craving wants the reward, and response obtains the reward. Everything about a habit centers on the reward. Rewards satisfy our cravings, and they teach us which actions we should remember to do in the future.
How long does it take to form a new habit?
According to some studies, building habits takes around 66 days before the behavior change becomes automatic. But the choice of habit affected how long it actually took. Meaning some habits are harder or easier to form than others. In the end, how long the habit takes to form depends on how motivated you are and how much effort it takes to perform a behavior.
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