A habit is by definition automatic. We do them without much thinking and usually without really deciding. A habit has three distinct stages that form the habit loop.
- Cue: running shoes/cookie jar/grandma
- Action: go for a run/eat the cookie/kiss her hello
- Reward: runners high/yummy sugar & fat/the smile on her face
When we see our cue we perform the habitual action and then we get rewarded for it. Because we like the reward we repeat the action next time we see the cue. The more we repeat this loop the more we reinforce the habit.
Why are habits important?
Good habits are important because they have the power to change our lives for the better. Habits account for almost half of our daily actions and as such they determine how we act, how we think and who we are. When we are cultivating good habits we are investing into a better life.
Habits determine more of our lives than we care to admit. In fact, research suggests that habits account for 40% of our daily activities. And that’s on average, so for some it might be more than half! That’s on average, so for some it might be more than half! And that’s just scratching the surface of the importance of good habits.
Habits determine who you are
Since a considerable chunk of our actions happens on autopilot it’s easy to see how habits can have a big effect on our lives and determine our identity. If we are in the habit of running every morning we are a runner. If we are in the habit of cleaning up after ourselves we are a tidy person. But there’s more!
Most of the time, when we talk about habits we talk about habitual actions but there’s this whole new level of habits that happens on a thinking level!
Habits don’t only apply to our action but also to the way we think! We can get into the habit of pointing out the downsides or celebrating the upsides. We can be a downer or a cheerleader. If we get into the habit of quitting when things get tough we become a quitter. If we get into the habit of trying again and trying differently instead of giving up you become an achiever and great things happen.
Good habits can break bad ones
Habits can be categorized in many different types but more often than not we talk about habits in terms of good and bad. We try to break bad habits and we try to cultivate good habits.
Good habits help us break bad ones in two ways:
- by providing a strong foundations (keystone habits) that makes it easier to exert self-control
- by replacing bad habits all-together
Good habits help you reach your goals
Pairing goals with relevant habits might just be the biggest game changer in achieving your goals. By sticking to a good habit that is related to your goal you will take actions every day that will get just a little bit closer to your target. Writing one page might seem neglectable compared to writing a whole novel but over the course of a year these pages will compound and you will end up with a rather heavy book.
While we can’t always control the outcome, we can control the actions we take daily and these good habits will keep moving us closer to our goals. When we pair good habits with goal setting we create a lead measure that is fully within our control. A lead measure (eat 1200kcal or less) is the critical activity that will help you achieve your lag measure (fit comfortably into your fav jeans).
Good habits can replace motivation
We all have those days when we just don’t feel like doing anything. We feel unmotivated and lazy.
It’s in days like this that our habits can make a massive difference. When we feel unmotivated decisions are hard and we tend to go with the flow of our habitual days. If we’ve made that morning run our second nature, we’ll end up putting those running shoes on and heading off the door purely out of habit. Because making a decision to do something else becomes harder than doing what we’ve always done.
When we develop healthy habits and a good working routine habits can, at least to some extent, replace motivation.
Good habits help you deal with stress
In stressful times our habits matter more than ever. When we are too preoccupied with what is going on in our lives we lack willpower and resort to habits. When we have healthy habits to fall back onto this can help us deal with stress in a healthy manner.
Not only does this apply to our daily habits like eating a healthy breakfast or going to the gym, our coping mechanisms are also habitual. When we are stressed we can find comfort in a bowl of ice cream (yep, thats me!) or go for a run. We can go on a blame spree or we can take a few deep breaths and look at the situation objectively.
It is important that we form good habits during the good times because these are the habits we’ll fall back to when things go south.
Good habits will keep you healthy
Very often, when we talk about good habits, health related habits make it to the top of the list. So much so that habits related to food, exercise and sleep are considered to be the foundation habits on which you can keep building good habits.
Simple habits like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, never eating at fast food chains, waling while talking on the phone or switching said phone off in the evening will compound over time into a healthy lifestyle.
Your good habits have a positive impact on the people you love
By building good habits we can lead by example and this can have a tremendous effect on the people around us.
Over and over research suggest that we tend to adopt each others habits. Our habits can influence people around us and theirs can influence ours. This is true for good and bad habits alike.
You’ve probably noticed habit contagion in action. Your partner too started eating healthier since you’ve quit sugar. Or perhaps you’ve picked up meditation since you moved in with them. You might turn down a drink when your friend is pregnant and doesn’t drink herself. Or you might make poorer food choices when you eat out with your brother than you would at home.
Habit contagion is especially powerful in a family setting. You might have picked up your mum’s habit of always hanging the laundry in a certain way. Or your dad’s habit of holding the fork in a funny way. And in a similar way your habit transfer over onto your kids, your partner and also your family.
Importance of good habits
Your habits, good or bad, define a great part of your life. When you choose to follow carefully selected good habits you have the power to design your dream life, you learn to master yourself in hard times and you have a positive impact on the people closest to you. There are many habit formation strategies that can help you build, change or break habits. Self knowledge will help you pick the right one for you.