How many things do we do without thinking, on the fly? These are our habits, both bad and good. They can be formed, you can get rid of them, but there are many nuances. We tell you which ones.
The quality of our life is largely determined by habits and, depending on whether they are good or bad, change it for better or for worse. What is a habit, how, and why its formed and whether you can influence its formation?
What Is a Habit
There are two forms of behavior in man:
- Purposeful behavior is the way we behave when we are going toward a goal. To do this, we make an effort, control each step, evaluate its effectiveness and the result obtained. In doing so, our consciousness is switched on, we think about our actions. Purposeful behavior easily changes when the goal changes.
- Habit is an unconscious form of behavior. We act out of habit automatically, with no control over ourselves, no thought of the process, and no effort. Taking steps against the habit is difficult, even if it interferes with the goal. Automatic behavior is formed as a result of repeating certain actions over and over again.
Many habits are ingrained in us from an early age: brushing our teeth, making our bed, taking a shower in the morning – things we repeat every day from an early age. Habits continue to appear throughout life: tying our shoelaces a certain way, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, playing for 30 minutes at Bet20 daily, going to the gym, reading before going to bed… In short, a habit is something that doesn’t waste the resources of our attention.
Often we try to develop a healthy habit, such as running in the morning, and wonder why it’s so difficult. The fact that this action has not yet become a habit, but remains a purposeful behavior.
Types of Habits
There are different classifications. Perhaps the best known is the division into healthy and unhealthy habits.
Habits are also divided into:
Sometimes they are classified as professional (related to work, for example, a dentist automatically sterilizes instruments) and household (putting dishes in a cupboard in a certain order), as social (shaking hands, standing up when a teacher enters the classroom) and individual (making tea according to certain rules, walking the same route with the dog).
How Long It Takes to Form a Habit
There is a common myth that it takes 21 days to perform the necessary actions to form a habit. Reality and researchers disagree: they believe that, depending on various factors, it takes from 18 to 254 days to form a habit, and in some cases even more. This myth is harmful and dangerous – a person, knowing about three weeks, expects that a useful action will become a habit for him during this period, and if this doesn’t happen – he begins to think that there is something wrong with him, not enough willpower. Motivation drops, and he gives up all endeavors.
Another myth is that to form a habit it’s necessary to sweat, to make maximum effort. In fact, motivation and context – external circumstances and the environment – play a large role. Of course, you can’t do without willpower, but if you rely only on it, you will fail.
Stages of Habit Formation
In the process of acquiring a habit, we go through several stages, each of which lasts a certain period of time. In order for it to successfully take hold, it’s important to go through them all. The more stages are skipped, the less stable and stable the habit will be. Psychologists have called this phenomenon the transtheoretical model.
The Resistance Stage
It can last any amount of time before a person decides to change something in his life. At the stage of resistance he isn’t aware of the problem and doesn’t want to change, so it’s useless to convince him of anything. Until he begins to feel discomfort and dissatisfaction, he has no need to change. And only when he realizes that he wants to do something about it, to achieve something positive, he becomes motivated and decides to take a series of actions to form a habit.
The Reflection Stage
It lasts from one day to two weeks. During this time, the person figures out all the benefits of what he will gain and the disadvantages of what he will lose. Often people get stuck at this stage because they cannot decide which has more advantages and disadvantages – the new behavior or the old one. The technique “pros and cons” helps to move from this point. For this purpose, it’s necessary to take a sheet of paper, cross it out into two columns. In one column, formulate and write down arguments “for” the acquisition of a new habit, in the other – “against”. It is better if these arguments are diverse and there are many of them, it’s necessary to look at the upcoming changes from different perspectives, consider the pros and cons for yourself, for family and friends, for friends and surrounding people, for nature and ecology and for everyone who is important to the person who has decided to change. The more “pros,” the more likely he is to decide to act. On the other hand, even a couple of too scary, unpleasant and risky “cons” will outweigh a dozen hypothetical but less significant benefits. This is something you can work with. First, the pros and cons should be as concrete and tangible as possible. For example, when deciding to exercise and start eating right, the argument “I will lose weight” is too abstract. But “I will have a wide choice of clothes,” “I will like myself in the mirror,” “My shortness of breath will go away and my blood pressure will normalize” are already more concrete benefits.
The Preparation Stage
This stage is relatively short, from 7 to 21 days. After the pros have won the cons, the decision has actually been made, but you need to mentally prepare yourself to start acting. First, be aware of your commitments and accept them, that is, accept that you will have to do something, the habit won’t form by itself, without making an effort. It’s better to voice it to yourself and to those around you – that way the commitment will hold us back if it’s too difficult to quit everything. Next you need to set yourself up emotionally: mentally imagine the consequences of change, create motivation, choose information that will help transform, find a circle of people with similar problems and interests, who are going through the same changes. This is the reason why various marathons are popular: they have the necessary information, a clear structure and action plan, the support of curators, and a chat room of like-minded people.
The duration of this stage is 2-3 months. During this time, it’s important to track your progress, which will motivate you, and receive support from those around you, who won’t let you quit everything in moments of seeming stagnation, when you lose heart and want to give up. For example, why do those who start exercising with a coach achieve a more stable habit?
First, the coach records changes: makes measurements of weight and parameters while losing weight, records the growth of strength indicators.
Secondly, he motivates by support, by his example. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can have a good effect here: with their help, you can remove stereotypes, negative attitudes and various limiting beliefs that prevent the formation of useful habits and get rid of harmful ones.
Here are a few rules that will help you not to break the fourth stage and strengthen the habit:
- Every habit is formed according to the same scenario: trigger-action-reinforcement. The trigger is the trigger that triggers the action and makes it easier to start. In our example with sports it can be a certain place (gym, a running track in the park), time (exercise at a certain hour), context (a beautiful sports uniform, comfortable expensive sneakers bought specifically to achieve the goal and acquire the habit). Therefore, it’s important to observe all the conditions rigorously – in this case, the habit is fixed faster and easier. If the conditions are constantly changing (a person goes to the gym one morning, one evening, three days in a row, and then skips a week, goes to different gyms or to different trainers, etc.), the triggers disappear, become ineffective, and much more effort and will has to be applied to trigger action.
- Reminders, environment, motivation. An important point in acquiring a habit is all the things that support you along this difficult path. This can be a picture of a dream figure, from which the hand that reaches for the pie will descend; the support of a close friend, like-minded person or personal mentor, to whom you can call in “troubled” times and get support; sharing results with an approving environment. At the same time, it’s better to limit communication with people who act destructively (for example, persuade the slimmer that he is already beautiful, from a piece of cake nothing will happen, plant additives) or devalue (tell him that he won’t succeed because overweight is genetic and “we all have a body in our family”, mock, etc.).
- Do yourself encouragement. Tough discipline is bound to be followed sooner or later by a breakdown, no matter how strong the motivation. Sometimes you need to allow yourself to relax, to do small pleasures as a reward for achievements.
- Give yourself the right to make mistakes. For example, you can set a deadline, but understand that if you don’t meet the deadline, the world won’t turn upside down and nothing terrible will happen. The deadline can be shifted or extended, and you can even allow yourself to refuse. For example, there is no need to write yourself off as a loser if you have decided to run in the morning, but after six months of hard effort you have not started to enjoy it, and every morning turns into a nightmare and stress. The fear of not meeting the deadline becomes the cause of anxiety, which causes you to sabotage even the very attempts to start doing something new.
- Accompanying pleasant emotions. It’s easier to get into a habit if the process is accompanied by positive emotions. For example, in the example of sports, it’s possible to turn on headphones with your favorite music during exercise, to eat a tasty protein bar after a workout, in general, anything that will bring pleasure.
First, we need to talk about the unpleasant. We can do something all the time and get into a habit. But there’s never a guarantee that a breakdown or setback won’t happen. Even in the case of a sustained habit, external conditions, stress, and interruption can cause them. That’s why it’s very important to maintain the freshly acquired changes for at least 2-3 months. At this stage, less effort is applied, but the triggers, on the contrary, need more control. By this point, you probably already understand what can make you sabotage the new habit and these triggers need to be avoided. For example, you know that if you turn on a TV show at dinner, nothing will make you go to a workout, or if you consume some alcohol, you will smoke again. Such conditions should be avoided because then willpower is powerless.
If you skip any of the stages, you reduce the chances of acquiring a steady habit. By skipping the reflection stage, you run the risk of quickly burning out and abandoning the solution. Without the preparation stage, you may lack motivation, especially if you can’t boast of iron willpower. If you ignore the important points of the action and support stages, the habit won’t be sustained, there will be constant backsliding.