Understanding Habits

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle


Habits are routine behaviours done on a regular basis. They are repeated and often unconscious patterns of behaviour and are attained through frequent repetition. Many of these are unconscious as we don’t even realise we are doing them. This makes them a powerful controlling force in our lives.

Habits define our character, our thoughts and feelings and our ‘usual’ behaviours. Habits are behaviours that are nearly or completely involuntary and because they are repeated frequently, we become ‘better’ at them (increased facility of performance).


Why are habits important


Habits can be very useful and it would be impossible to run our lives without them. They automate many of the routine activities in our lives and free up our minds so that we are capable of concentrating on higher level activities.

Habits play an important role in simplifying our lives and REDUCING the amount of sensory stimuli we need to process. It’s estimated that out of every 11,000 signals we receive from our senses, our brain only consciously processes 40. Habits save us energy as by their nature they are automatic and require little physical and mental strength, for instance brushing your teeth or tying your shoelaces require very little mental energy.

Good habits serve to create routine, order and efficiency. Bad habits have the opposite effect and can lock us into negative or rigid patterns of behaviour. Bad habits such as overeating, smoking or driving too fast can be damaging to our health and well-being.

Our brains are very powerful and are constantly scanning for patterns in our lives or things it can turn into habits. Unfortunately, our subconscious mind does not discriminate between good and bad habits and anything that is repeated over time has the potential to become a habit.

Fortunately, we can take control of this process and CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE which thoughts, actions and behaviours will become habits.

That is why we must be very careful and be aware of the habits that we are unconsciously developing every single day.

The first step in breaking bad habits and creating new ones is getting a firm understanding on exactly what the behaviour is you want to change, understanding what triggers those behaviours, then figuring out what it is that you gain from that behaviour (or your reward).


How do habits form?


  1. Through consistent repetition over the years.
  2. They started with actions performed very consciously at first, before they were a habit, and gradually they became more automatic and less conscious.
  3. There is a feedback loop that helped us repeat the habit for a good length of time. For example, if you are stressed and then eat junk food, you might get pleasure or comfort (positive feedback), and if you don’t eat the junk food, you remain stressed (negative feedback). So positive feedback for indulging an urge and negative feedback for not indulging it makes to want to do it repeatedly, whenever the trigger happens, which leads to the formation of a habit.