The Psychology Behind Habit Formation

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Many, if not everyone, are familiar with the term “habit.” What do you think of when you see the word? Do you know what it means? People are quick to classify everyday activities as habits.

While a habit can be something you do every day, there’s more to the word than a daily task you probably get to only when you have no choice. If you have to force yourself or muster up some courage to get a task done, it doesn’t matter how often you execute something such action. It does not qualify as a habit. Did I hear you whisper what then is a habit? I’m glad you asked.

What is a Habit?

I’m positive that all grown humans possess habits of some sort (weird, regular, or admirable). A habit is a behavioral response to a situation or event, referred to as a cue. The cue triggers a reaction; a habit forms when a behavior is repeated in response to the same circumstance (cue).

Repetition of that behavior over a long time makes it automatic. So, when describing a habit, you have to talk about the situation or environment (cue) that triggers the response (behavior) and the automaticity of the reaction. Are you struggling to think up some examples that fit in with this definition? Let me help you out there.

Examples of Habits

Many young adults can relate to the early morning practice of checking their phones once they open their eyes. Whether you just check the time or spend two hours on social media before considering planning your day, you are probably among the number who stare at a phone screen once you realize you’re alive for yet another day. So, in this case, waking up is the cue, and using your phone, is the response. I’m personally trying to break this habit, but you know what they say, old habits die hard. It’s still worth a continuous shot.

Another example is the classic fingernail biting. You might have a friend or relative who struggles to keep their fingernails away from their mouth. Fingernail biting is a habit that can be a response to multiple cues. Your friend might bite their nails when they get nervous, anxious, or bored. When they find themselves in a triggering situation, they mindlessly resort to biting their nails.

That brings me to an essential characteristic of a habit. It happens without thought. You do not have an internal debate or force yourself to act out a habit. Your friend mindlessly bites their nails when exposed to specific triggers. Many people mindlessly check their phones when they open their eyes from sleep. I’m confident, at this point, your mind is brimming with more examples of habits. If you’ve correctly understood what a habit is, I can wager my favorite earrings on your examples being right. Don’t let me down; I like those earrings.

Psychology of Habit: How Habits are Formed

If you’d like to build an efficient system that will produce long-term results, you might have thought about some habits you’d like to adopt. Perhaps you would like to be a seasoned novelist or a stellar athlete, or maybe you just want a fit body. It doesn’t matter what you want to achieve; a simple habit will help your cause. Of course, you should think of a habit relevant to your goal. Mull on the question, “What habit would help me (insert your goal here)?”

Now that you have your answer, we proceed to the next thing: creating an environment or a trigger for the action you are looking to make into a habit. Remember that you must not perform this action daily but it should occur regularly and after a specific cue. This action or behavior becomes a habit once it can happen without you trying to persuade yourself first. Instead, it becomes normal for you.

How To Learn a Habit

You may be curious about how long it takes to learn a habit; a study says it takes an average of 66 days. It says average, so it could be way less or a bit more, depending on the habit you try to learn and how often you’ll perform that action. However, prepare to make a conscious effort for some weeks, and eventually, you will get well accustomed to the behavior, and it will earn the tag “habit.” You’ll even feel uncomfortable if you skip it for whatever reason. In summary, here’s how to learn a new habit:

  1. Set a simple goal; Jogging for a few minutes every weekday (it is not advisable to start with something complex).
  2. Create a cue; Jogging after brushing your teeth every weekday.
  3. Repeat the action under the same circumstance (brushing your teeth) every weekday.

Researchers say adding a new habit to a chain of old ones is better. That means the cue you create should be something you are already used to. For the example above, it is assumed that the person already brushes every morning on weekdays (I can’t say the same for weekends).

We all have a routine we mindlessly follow; some take their bath early every morning, whether it is a work day or a holiday. It’s a habit they have formed over a long period. There are things you do every day or every week that have become second nature to you. When trying to learn a new habit, it is best to fix that new behavior somewhere in between or after your usual routine. That way, it sticks faster, and you will have your desirable habit.

Parting Words

Learning and writing about the psychology of habit has made me understand why it is challenging to change behavioral patterns and why it is not so easy to learn a new one. But, my eyes are now open to see how one can deliberately work on their behaviour. I hope it has done the same for you. Thanks for reading through!