Habits — What They Are And Why They Matter
Origin, Explanation And Why They’re So Important
Throughout evolution, many different factors have been responsible for our development.
Everything from our geological position, surrounding species, and the weather have played a huge part in how we now function and think.
However, a lot has changed since then, and that is not something to ignore.
Today a big part of what forms our way of thinking stems from our childhood.
Ever since our birth, we learn through repetition, and this is precisely how habits are formed and strengthened.
In this article series we explain in detail everything about them — from how they started to how to make them work in our favour.
So, What Are Habits?
A habit is a learned behavior or sequence that has become reflexive overtime and therefore does not need a conscious command or intent.
What’s important about habits is that they are learned through time and can be made into completely automatic processes.
However, maybe their most distinctive feature is that they’re mainly dependent on previous repetition, and that’s why doing them often, is the easiest way to make them a part of our brain.
The part of our brain that’s active when we’re doing something out of habit is called the basal ganglia.
It’s interesting to note that this is not the same part responsible for decision-making (the prefrontal cortex).
Within the basal ganglia of the brain, there are two different pathways through which we reach our habits- associative and automatic.
The associative pathway is connected to actions leading to food, warmth, shelter etc. — it’s basically everything from habits to instincts.
The automatic pathway is where often repeated actions are stored like brushing teeth, putting on shoes etc. — this is for the habits we learn through repetition and positive reinforcement.
● Neurological loop
This is the most basic explanation of how habits are formed, and it consists of three steps — a cue, a routine, and a reward.
The cue is the trigger for the behavior itself, and it’s mainly connected with location, time, previous action, or emotion.
Think of it like walking past the bathroom in the morning and brushing your teeth — this can be because of your place in the apartment, the morning hour, the fact that you just got out of bed, or that you still feel sleepy and want to wake up.
Next is the routine — this is the initially conscious actions that turned into habits.
We can use drinking coffee as an example — a lot of people start drinking coffee because they’re tired or bored at the beginning (completely aware of the reasons and their actions) and end up forming a habit out of it through repeating the same thought process every day.
The final thing is the reward — this is pretty self-explanatory.
Habits are easily made through because of the rewarding feeling afterward.
For example, when you cook for yourself every night, you receive some free time throughout the next day and make this into a habit.
Why They Matter So Much
● Healthier life
Taking your meds, exercising, keeping a healthy diet and regular sleep schedule are all thanks to the formation of habits.
Positive actions and thoughts tend to avalanche and the same is true for repeating behavior — once you start it’s much easier to keep going and this leads to a better physical and mental state.
Healthy habits also lead to a better perspective on life — once you start taking care of your body, it’s much easier to boost your confidence and start working on your goals.
It’s also worth mentioning that habits improve your day-to-day life because they’re essentially little boosts of serotonin, which are always welcome.
● More brainpower
From an evolutionary standpoint, this is why habits were formed.
When you do something automatically you can keep your active focus on something else and still be successful in both.
By forming the habits you need and want, you will have the energy to achieve more complicated actions.
It’s also important to mention that they save up time — once you’ve turned habits into automatic processes, you can do two or more things at the same time without it being detrimental to the results.
So, Think Of It This Way
Habits have been a part of our brain processes forever and for a good reason.
They help with survival, and they make many actions less taxing on the brain.
Habits also promote a healthier lifestyle and an easier and more enjoyable experience both from day to day and long term.
In the second part of this series, we explain how to improve the habits we already have, get rid of negative ones and even build some we’ve always wanted to.