Habits: What, How and Why

In Why Your Morning Routine Should Feel Good I spoke briefly that it is important to enjoy what you do at the beginning of your day so that you have better chances of sticking to it. A successful morning routine consists of good morning habits. Ideally, you go to move your body or journal or meditate the same way you go to brush your teeth. And you brush your teeth even when you didn’t have enough sleep or when you are lazy, right? Right. (If not, uhm, maybe you should start?).

If making a habit out of our morning activities is important, then it is crucial to understand what a habit is and how one is formed. This is exactly what this article is all about.

What is a habit?

According to Wikipedia, and I think we can trust it on this one, a habit is “a routine or behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously“. What can we learn from this definition? Plenty.

  • Habits are routines that are repeated regularly.
  • Habits are behaviours – to some extent they are responses to our environment and the way we interact with it.
  • Habits are part of our subconsciousness.

How are habits formed?

There are 4 stages in the process of forming a habit:

  • Cue: the cue is the trigger, an action, behaviour or environment, that initiates certain actions or behaviours. The cue is something that your brain thinks might lead to some type of a reward.
  • Craving: this is a strong desire that is triggered by the cue. This is the motivational force behind the habit. If you don’t have the craving, then you won’t be so strongly prompted to engage in the next stage.
  • Response: this is the action you take as a result of the craving. This is the part we usually refer to as “a habit” because it is the visible manifestation of the whole process.
  • Reward: or also the satisfaction from your response. This is the end goal of every habit.

Let’s look at some examples

My favourite example is with coffee but if you cannot relate, then imagine your favourite breakfast food/tea/smoothie.

Cue: You wake up.

Craving: Your brain tell you you need energy .

Response: You go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.

Reward: You get a kick of caffeine.

Or another example with a less healthy habit:

You are bored (cue). You need something to distract you from boredom (craving). You take your phone and scroll social media (response). You get a short-lasting dose of dopamine (reward).

Or a healthy one:

You wake up (cue). You want to feel energized (craving). You take your running shoes and go for a run (response). You get a flow of endorphin and feel amazing (reward).

What’s the biggest trap of habits?

When I started researching this topic, there was something that amazed and concerned me at the same time. If a habit has lodged itself in your subconsciousness, you can continue engaging in the response even if your response does not lead to any rewards. Whaaaat?! Isn’t this crazy? You can drink alcohol, binge eat, spend hours on social media, engage in negative self talk every day, not get any reward of it, but keep on doing it.

It is both incredible and alarming.

Why do we care about all of this?

Everything so far tell us that we have better chances to make a habit out of our morning routines if:

β†’ We engage in it regularly

β†’ We make sure to associate good habits with a cue that would prompt us to engage in them

β†’ We associate a positive result (reward) with out actions so our brains would seek more of them

β†’ It takes time for something to become a habit but once it does, it will stay with us until we decide we want to change it

So here you go, the short summary of what habits are and how they are formed. If you are curious to know more check these books:

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

Atomic Habits : An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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