What is a habit and how is it formed? Habits are routine and sometimes mandatory. When you think of having successful habits for work or business, you think of the ones that make you productive and increase growth. How do we begin to break our old habits and form new ones for success?
What is a Habit and How is it Formed?
According to Wikipedia.com, “A habit (or wont) is a routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.”
In other words, a habit is something you do repeatedly and regularly without even thinking about doing it. For example, you get up every day at the same time even without an alarm clock. You have a set routine you do each morning. In your business or job, you attack projects in the same way.
Habits are routine and sometimes mandatory. When you think of having successful habits for work or business, you think of the ones that make you productive and fit in worth growth.
The process of changing a habit into a new behavior is called habit formation. It’s very hard to break old habits and form new habits since our behavior is engrained into our neural pathways. But repetition is the key to changing a habit.
So how are they formed then?
It turns out that habits are a three-step process.
- The first step is the trigger or cue telling your brain to go into automatic mode. This is the decision making part of your brain.
- The second step is the routine or the behavior itself. This is where your decision-making part of the brain and the emotional or memory part of the brain work together.
- The third step is the reward. It’s something you enjoy that helps your brain remember this habit in the future. Here is where the memory part of the brain takes over.
Habits are formed through performing a certain action or behavior so regularly that it becomes automatic.
The length of time it takes to break or form a new habit has been debated often. We’ve been told that a habit can be formed and sustained in 21 days. This came from a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, who published a book, “Psycho-Cybernetics” in the 60s. In it, he talked of his observations that amputees took on average only 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb. He reasoned that the same must be true of all big changes and it must take 21 days to change a habit.
However, this isn’t totally accurate.
Don’t take my word for it though. A study by the University College London psychologist Phillippa Lally found that subjects trying to learn new habits such as eating fruit daily or exercising every day, took an average as 66 days before the behavior became automatic. In fact, it ranged from 18 days to 245 days.
Habits can be initially triggered by a goal but over time that goal fades and the habit becomes an automatic behavior.
Habits are formed in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which has to do with the development of emotions, pattern recognition, and memories.
Decisions, however, are from the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. Once a behavior becomes a habit, the decision-making part of the brain stops processing new data.
So, you see, a habit is something you do without thinking about doing it. It takes anywhere from 18 days to 245 days to form a new habit, depending on the complexity of the habit. Changing a bad habit into a good one can be difficult but not impossible.