The Good, The Bad and Ugly: Understanding How Habits are Formed

Whether we recognize it or not, we use habits from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. Many take the form of unconscious thoughts and behaviors that help form our daily routines. Forming good habits and breaking unwanted ones can be challenging– but not certainly not impossible. As a bonus, taking control of your habits can lead to a healthier happier and more fulfilling life.

Why Are Habits Important?

The human brain uses automatic behaviors to help increase its efficiency. This process allows us to complete everyday actions automatically without much if any mental effort. As a result, we’re able to focus our mental energy on more complicated or demanding tasks.

Some habits, such as looking both ways before crossing the street or putting on our seat are automatic and helpful. Others, like that daily danish at the coffee shop on the way to work are less so. Fortunately, bad habits and routines can be changed and as we form new, helpful healthy ones.

How Do We Form Habits?

Scientists and researchers have broken down the forming of habits into it component parts. In the book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg reviews findings by MIT researchers on the habit loop, a three-step neurological process that forms the basis of these automatic actions.

The habit loop involves these three steps:

  1. Cue: A trigger that prompts your brain to select a specific habit
  2. Routine: The actual behavior you perform as a result of the cue
  3. Reward: The positive reinforcement

Some researchers add another step to this loop—cravings. In the four-step model cravings, or desire, form the second step and provide the motivation for you to engage in the habitual behavior. While habit loops are helpful, sometimes your brain can form a loop without you realizing it– which can lead to developing unwanted routines.

There are different techniques that you can use to help stop unwanted habits and start good ones. Some automatic actions may respond better to different strategies, so try different methods to find what works best for you.

The Good Habits Team

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