Like it or not, everyone has habits.
Whether it is a good routine like teeth-brushing or a bad pattern like nail-biting, habits form the foundation of our daily rhythms.
A habit is essentially an action or pattern that is repeated regularly. Often routines become behaviors that are done unconsciously or without much thought, similar to a computer program that runs on a schedule.
When someone takes the same route to work every day, it’s not uncommon for them to arrive and not have a clear memory of the trip. The drive is such an ingrained pattern that it almost seems to happen on its own.
When Habits Help and When They Harm
Routines are a good thing because they allow people to be efficient in their day-to-day tasks. Having to think about every action or behavior and choose how to execute it would waste a lot of brainpower. Putting some jobs on autopilot frees up the brain to engage in other things. (1)
Not all customs are good, however, and much of the work of wellness involves breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones.
If one or more of these areas is out of balance or causing stress, then feelings of wellness can easily slip away.
The Shape of a Habit
Most habits follow a simple pattern: a cue leads to behavior that results in a reward. (2) For example, the signal of sitting down to watch TV in the evening may lead someone to eat junk food. The comfort from enjoying pleasurable food is the reward. The more often this pattern is repeated, the more entrenched the routine will become.
Changing an ingrained mannerism is not easy but understanding how habits are made presents the opportunity to break the pattern.
Three Steps to Change a Habit