In the words of writer and historian Will Durant, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” By this logic, the habits you’ve built into your life are extensions of who you are. Your small daily habits build up to shape your life – so it pays to create ones that are in line with the type of life you want to live. Whether you’ve got a bad habit you want to break or a new habit you’d like to form, keep reading. We’ll guide you through the psychology of habit formation, what experts say about changing unwanted habits – and building positive new ones.
The psychology of habit formation
Habits are a good thing. They free up brain space so you can get more out of your day without needing to make continuous decisions – leaving you with more mental energy. Learning to master the art of habit formation so that you can enjoy freed-up brain space and beneficial daily routines, now that’s when you’ve really got a key formula for life optimization.
Decades of research have been carried out on the neuroscience of habit formation – and some of the findings have been fascinating. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, nearly half of our daily actions may be driven by habit – which adds up to nearly half of our lives. Without even realizing it, your habits have been carrying you through much of your life so far. So, how do you form positive ones? Start by learning about how different types of habits are formed – and how they can be helpful, or hindering, to your overall wellbeing.
There are few different types of habit formation:
- Habitual habits (habits that occur on autopilot and often increase in times of stress).
- Goal-directed habits (habits that are driven by a desired outcome).
- Situational habits/habit formed through cues e.g. waking up in the morning might be your cue to make a cup of coffee. From there, your cup of coffee might be your cue to take your MitoQ. Put together, these cues influence your morning routine.
Habit formation and behavior change
How do you use this habit formation research to your advantage? Habit Theory offers a simple approach to letting go of unhelpful habits and forming new, positive ones. Habit theorists believe that repetitive situations drive repetitive behaviors: which results in, you guessed it, habits. Basically, repeating the same action over and over again within the same context wires your brain into accepting a new habit. How do you break it? Easy. Overwrite it with a new one.
Social Change UK proposes that, by maintaining the context of a habit but swapping the habitual action out for a more desirable one, you can build newer, healthier habits. An example they give is this: when someone has a habit of smoking cigarettes whenever they visit a pub, they should replace their habitual behavior (smoking) with a new behavior (such as chewing gum). Bam. And the bad habit is gone, right? Not quite. Replacing a negative habit with a positive one isn’t a one-and-done project. It’s something that needs to be practiced again and again until the positive habit becomes automatic.
But what if, instead of replacing an existing habit, you simply want to build a new one? University College London researchers suggest building your new habit into your existing routine through the following steps:
- Decide on a simple daily action you can take that will help you build your new habit/goal.
- Choose a time and place that you find yourself in every day of the week: this is where you will consistently carry out your new daily action.
- Keep this up for at least ten weeks and your action should evolve into a new habit!
How habits shape your life
By now, you probably get it: you can use the power of habit to create the type of life you want to live. By changing your habits, you could change almost 50% of your daily routine. This could mean creating better sleep habits (and enjoying all the benefits of being a good sleeper), fuelling your body with nutrients that help you function at your best, or even building that business you’ve been dreaming about for years. But, as you’ve probably realized from the ideas above, it takes consistency and dedication to remove a bad habit and create a positive new habit. Our suggestion: start small. Don’t try to overhaul your entire routine all at once. Pick one habit to work on at a time and incorporate it into your existing routine. Harvard Business Review’s tips for making a new habit stick include:
- Telling someone you look up about the new habit you’re trying to build (you’ll be more likely to hold yourself accountable and stick to your goals).
- Pair your desired habit with something you enjoy – it'll make the experience more pleasant (and therefore easier to maintain).
- Build your desired habit into your existing schedule and then practice, practice, practice.
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