Originally posted on https://jakefood.com/2019/changing-a-habit/.
Think back to the start of your morning. Remember how you got out of bed. Remember how you headed to the bathroom. Remember how you decided on which side of your mouth to start brushing your teeth. You don’t remember that part, do you? In fact, you might not even remember which side you eventually picked. Because you were not really paying attention. Brushing your teeth is a habit, and just like all habits, you ‘just do’ it automatically.
But not all habits are as beneficial for you as brushing your teeth. Do you browse social media every night until late and end up losing sleep? Do you grab a cookie every time you’re at the coffee machine and wonder why you’re gaining weight? You know what your bad habits are. And you also know you’d be healthier, more productive and more successful if you could change them. In this article, you’ll learn how.
We’ll look at how habits form, what they’re made of and how you can use that against them for long-lasting change.
Why do habits form?
We learn a lot of behaviours throughout our lives and a lot of them repeat regularly. But learning a behavior doesn’t make it a habit. To become a habit, a behavior needs to happen in the same context every time. Just think about walking – you’ve learned how to do it well enough without consciously thinking about it, but walking isn’t a habit. If you go for a 30-minute walk every Saturday after your lunch, that’s a habit.
Habits are your brain’s way of optimising its resources. If you do the same thing in the same way in the same context often enough, your brain makes an educated guess that if you’re in the same context again, you’ll be doing that same behaviour. That means you don’t have to spend precious resources on decision-making next time. Indeed, habits trigger a different area of the brain than new situations and behaviours do. It’s because of this feature of your brain that you can start planning the day ahead of you, instead of having to decide how to brush your teeth every morning.