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Whats a Habit Anyway?
They say that humans are creatures of habit. And according to research, this seems to be true. Studies have found that people spend anywhere from 33-50% of their days engaging in “habitual behaviors” or habits. That’s a pretty impressive number, especially when it’s stacked against other categories like socializing, which was found to account for a mere 10-15% of peoples’ daily activities. But perhaps more important than the amount of time we dedicate to these habits, are the factors and forces that make them habits. It’s more than just their repetitive nature that makes specific behaviors habitual.
Lets identify 3 main characteristics of a habit;
- First, habits are often performed without our even realizing it—managed through unconscious thought. There’s no deep thinking involved; no “should I, or shouldn’t I” debate. It’s seamless and natural—a quality psychologists refer to as “automaticity”.
- Second, just as habits are free from high-level cognitive processing, they’re also free from intense emotion. This isn’t very surprising when you consider that habits are activities we repeat over and over. Just like with anything else, that repetition breeds familiarity and indifference, eventually removing emotion (especially negative emotion) from the activity altogether.
- Third and finally, habits have a context: a collection of environmental and situational factors that are associated with the habitual behavior. This can include a wide range of things like where you are, who you’re with, and what time it is—all of which combine to form a cue to execute a specific behavior.
It’s these three factors (or a combination of them) that allow us to identify which of our daily activities are in fact habits, and by understanding what a habit is we can also start to understand how they are both made and broken.