Developing Habits

A habit is a very small part of behavior. Before talking about habits, we should first discuss two kinds of behavior: conscious and unconscious behavior.

If you start looking at conscious and unconscious behavior, it seems, at first, that there’s a really clear mark between the two. For example, choosing to eat a banana for breakfast might be what feels like a very conscious choice. However it’s influenced by a lot of subconscious information that you have gathered before.

Some of our behavior’s unconscious. It means that we’re not aware of what kind of computation is going on before we move for it. However complex decisions can be taken even unconsciously.

Unconscious processes are mostly automatic by nature. That means that processes run on themselves and have their own start and stop sign, which is some unconscious signal.

Habits are unconscious behavior

A habit is actually unconscious behavior; it is automatic behavior which requires some kind of start signal. Starting signals are just markers in our sensory environment, whether internal or external, such as a specific time which could be your trigger to perform the habit.

It could be that another behavior is the starting point of your habit. For example, most of us have the habit of washing our hands after using the toilet. You are consciously aware that you are washing your hands at that specific moment if you want to, but if you have something else in your mind, if you are consciously planning your next Holidays, you would still go and wash your hands and maybe not even think about it while you’re doing it.

However, if you went to the toilet and you could not wash your hands because, for example, there’s no water coming out of the tap, then this action would become conscious, and your mind will prompt you to perform a conscious action because your automatic subconscious process is stuck. In this case, you need conscious behavior to think how to solve the problem.

Our habits define who we are

What’s important to understand is that basically, everything we are is just a chain of different habits and micro habits that lock into each other. Ultimately, we are defined by the actions that we take. While actions may refer to your bodily actions, the places you go, the things you do, etc, actions may also refer to your thoughts and feelings.

What we do all day is just a large connected chain of habits, and that string includes thoughts, feelings, actions, biological and neural states. From the moment you wake up to the moment that you go to sleep, you are constantly scanning your environment for signals that trigger a habit.

This is how our ancestors survived; they formed very good habits for survival, such as running away or hiding when a tiger is approaching. They also developed the very handy habit of hiding when it starts to rain, and looking for food even before they got hungry.

Learn how to Change Habits

Thus, if you wanna change your life you need to tackle habits. You need to know how to change habits. Because if you try to constantly change your behavior, that’s costing lots of energy. Behavioral overrides are quite expensive.

Every day, depending on your nature, and your current mental and bodily fitness, you only have a specific capacity of mental resources that you can use per day. That mental resource is very important because you need it to focus and stay emotionally stable. Once your resource is gone, your deplete it, you have to sleep or eat or take some rest. That’s why it’s best to create some habits that you can use to override your current behavior. The best way to do that is learn two things: Learn some macrohabits and learn some microhabits.

Macrohabits and Microhabits

First, learn how you can create habits yourself, and then use that knowledge to enhance your life. For example, let’s take a simple one: flossing your teeth. Most people know that flossing one’s teeth is healthy, but not many people do it. So, how can you now build a habit that will make you floss teeth?

1. Identify something that you can use as a trigger – In our example, wanting to grab your tooth brush can be a trigger, because it makes sense to floss your teeth before you brush your teeth, this could be a good trigger.

2. Make a connection between the habit and the trigger – Make the connection grow stronger by doing the behavior every time you see the trigger. In order for this to work, we need to make the trigger very strong, and the behavior very easy.

3. The easier the behavior the more likely you are going to do it. – Following our example, for now, the behavior will not be floss all your teeth, but for the first week for example, it will be only floss one teeth. This is actually all you do even if that is very stupid, but that’s gonna be your habit.

Knowing that it will take you 5 minutes to floss all your teeth, you’re more unlikely to actually do it and start skipping it even before the trigger is neurologically burnt into your brain. That’s why it’s important to first make that trigger behavior connection very strong and then go off and make exceptions.

4. Create tricks in your environment. – Once you feel that that connection is pretty strong, you can also make tricks in your environment for example, put your flossing things in front of your tooth brush, because that will help you to focus on that behavior after seeing the trigger. You could also place your tooth brush somewhere else than normal, so that you have a sort of a conscious moment.

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