Habit research is a fascinating field. It explores how much of our daily activity is automated, and how we can change deeply ingrained routines that no longer serve us.
Self-help books about any topic often recommend to “make it a habit…,” but that process can be much more challenging than it sounds. Take the example of New Year’s resolutions or other vows to make profound life changes: The common trajectory is a few days of feeling great about a new activity, followed by a more or less spectacular lapse into old patterns.
You can think of habits as automated routines that don’t require conscious decisions. These routines make up about one third of our daily actions, and that’s good! Imagine how hard it would be if you had to learn how to drive a car every time you wanted to go somewhere. Our brain and muscle memory allows us to focus on the more relevant aspects of our day.
Your habits are an individual collection of behaviors that have become second nature. They range from your preference for a morning beverage to your aversion to marketing yourself. The more ingrained they become, the more difficult they are to change. Not surprisingly, the way we treat and consider time is largely determined by habits as well. When you look at your daily schedule, you are likely to discover several time-related habits that may or may not be beneficial. For starters, what prompted you to open this blog post, and how many browser tabs are open as you are reading it?
Neuropsychology has helped us gain a much better understanding of the way our habits function. Habits are based on a simple loop of a cue, a routine, and a reward. To give you a simple example, a cue may be a sense of feeling unfocused, which prompts you to brew a mid-day cup of coffee (routine). The reward is the necessary concentration to finish a project.
What is the best way to start a new habit?
Cue = Feeling unfocused
Routine = Make coffee
Reward = Renewed concentration
by changing the routine portion, e.g. by drinking water instead of coffee.
What can you do when you’ve fallen off the wagon?
Good habits take continuous work, even after you’ve established them. In chaotic times, even the best habits can be hard to follow.
Here are some ideas for coming back to a new habit: