We tend to believe that we are in charge of our behavior. That how we act, what we do, and how we think are controlled by our free will. And while we do have a choice, most of our decisions are guided by our habits. To become more productive, in better shape, and even feel better about yourself, you have to change your habits first.
Below we’ll look into what habits are, how they affect your life, how they form, and how you can use them to live a happier and better life.
What are habits
According to research, 40% of all your behavior is done out of habit. Habits are repeated behaviors that, over time, become unconscious and automatic. The most obvious of these are physical behaviors, but our thoughts and emotions are largely a product of habits too.
Your habits control your routines. They control your productivity, health, and how you feel about yourself and others. You are the sum of your habits, and to change yourself and how you live, you have to change them first.
Why are habits important for self-improvement?
Self-improvement can seem overwhelming at first. There might be a million things you’d like to change. Or maybe, you have no clue about what you need to change. You just want to feel better.
No matter where you are between, having too many places to start and having none, you can begin your change by creating better habits.
Creating a solid foundation of good habits will give you more courage and energy to face new challenges. You’ll believe more in yourself, and when you eventually fall into tough times, you have something to fall back upon. Habits are the foundation of self-improvement. Without changing them, you won’t be able to change yourself.
Is there more than one type of habit?
There are several breeds of dogs. You can find labradors, golden retrievers, and many other kinds. The different breeds might vary in temperament, size, and friendliness, but they’re all still dogs. It’s the same with habits.
There are several types of habits. Some might be easy to form, and others will be difficult. Some might have little influence over your life, while others can change everything.
Understanding the different types of habits can make change easier, and you’ll better understand yourself and others. While the following four types of habits may overlap, it’s worth being aware of them all.
Keystone habits are the most powerful. When you create (or break) one of these, they will automatically form new habits in your life. These new behaviors can be either good or bad, depending on the habits that triggered them. One of the easiest ways to improve your life is to form or get rid of these habits.
Identity-based habits are those you have or form because of who you think you are. These habits are the easiest to create as they don’t cause resistance to your mind’s idea of who you are and what you should be doing.
You can use these habits for change by beginning to identify yourself as a reader, a good student, or something else you would like to become. This makes it easier to find and form the right habits.
Physical habits are what most people think about when they think about habits. This kind covers everything you do physically, such as what you eat, whether you exercise, and how you spend your time. In other words, these habits control your productivity and health.
Mental habits are, for many, the most difficult kind to change by themselves. These habits make up most of your inner life. Your thoughts, emotions, and how you react to situations are determined by these.
You can’t see these habits, and most of them have been with you for years, maybe since your early childhood. Because of this, many don’t see them as something they can change. Or they don’t understand how. This makes people stuck in the same destructive mental patterns.
You can work on these habits by practicing mindfulness, journaling, or visiting a therapist.
The best habits for self-improvement
What determines whether or not a habit is good is your goals. However, there are a few that always is good (Unless your goals are bad). Here are 8 of the best habits for self-improvement.
- Working out
- Following a sleep schedule
- Eating healthy
- Having a morning routine
- Daily walks
How habits are formed
Every habit goes through 4 steps. All steps have to be present before a behavior can become a habit.
The cue is the first step of the habit loop. If you walk past a coffee shop and smell the coffee, your brain will associate the smell of coffee with a reward. The reward can be many things. In this case, it might be the small energy boost from the caffeine.
The craving is the motivational force behind the habit. When you have smelt the coffee, and your brain has associated that smell with a small energy boost from the caffeine. This starts the craving, and you might begin to feel tired, as an unconscious way to remind you that you need the coffee.
It isn’t the coffee itself that you crave, but the reward. This explains why people struggle to break arguably unpleasant habits, such as smoking.
The response is the step where the actual behavior happens. Most isolate this step and forget the other steps when thinking about habits. You smelt the coffee which started the craving for a caffeine boost. In the response, you’ll decide if you go in and drink a cup of coffee or if you ignore the craving.
What decides if you’ll do the behavior or stop the loop is how much mental or physical effort it requires. If the behavior requires more effort than expected satisfaction, you won’t respond to the craving.
The reward is the final step in the habit loop. It’s what you get from performing the behavior. It’s the end goal of any habit. After you’ve finished your coffee, you’ll feel energized and ready to continue your day. This good feeling is what slowly transforms the behavior into a habit.
The smell of coffee (the cue) makes you feel sluggish and in need of a caffeine boost (the craving). To satisfy your craving, you go in and get yourself a cup of coffee (the behavior). After you’ve finished the coffee, you feel good and energized (the reward). When this loop is repeated enough, your brain will associate the cue with the reward. That’s how a habit is formed.
How long does it take to form a habit?
In 2009, a study was conducted to test how long it takes to form a habit. The subjects had to pick a simple behavior and then repeat it until it became a habit. The study showed that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit and between 18-254 days.
There are several factors that determine how long it will take you to form a habit. How much you enjoy it, how easy it is, how closely it ties to your identity, how it’s placed compared to other habits, and how often you do it are just some of the factors that determine how long it’ll take you.
Don’t let yourself be discouraged by this. Real change is slow, which makes it that much more satisfying in the end. If you could change yourself overnight, it wouldn’t mean anything.
You can determine whether or not a habit is good by thinking about how it will affect you long term. Exercising might feel unpleasant when you do it, but it will improve your future. The more good habits you form, the more potential you have for the future.
How to keep track of your ongoing habits
Whether you’re trying to form or break a habit, keeping track of your progress can help you succeed. It allows you to keep an overview of what you’re working on and how you’re doing.
A habit tracker is a tool that lets you do just that. It’s most effective in the implementation phase, while the behavior is slowly becoming a habit. However, once it is a habit, it can still be used to ensure that it sticks.
Every habit has a purpose. If not, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Smoking releases stress, and mindlessly scrolling through social media kills boredom and gives you a dopamine hit. These behaviors might feel good, but they’re still bad habits as they have a negative long-term effect on your life. The more bad habits you have, the less likely you are to reach your goals.
The habit scorecard is a great tool to get an overview of your current habits. Once you have the overview, it’s easier to work with.
All habit posts
Below is a list of all my articles about habits. Feel free to contact me if you feel that I need to cover something about the topic that you can’t find here.