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Habits form the fabric of our daily lives, shaping our routines, decisions, and, ultimately, our existence. Habits are the automatic processes that guide us through our day, often operating without conscious knowledge. Creating positive habits can profoundly impact our productivity, well-being, and success in various areas of life. Developing habits is easier when we know the psychology of behavior and use tactics that take advantage of our natural tendencies. Through deliberate practice, consistency, and repetition, people can shape their habits to achieve desired results. In this blog post on habit formation, we will learn the science behind habit formation, practical tactics, and tried-and-true approaches from professionals in behavior change and psychology. This journey will offer insights and actionable steps to navigate the maze of habit formation that leads to personal growth and long-lasting change, whether it's forming new habits or breaking bad ones.
Habit means "an established or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is difficult to break." Our habits are the things we do repeatedly and the tendencies of our daily life. Some habits, like going to the gym, may require real work or action. But most of the time, we follow our habits without much thought or effort. It is relatively easy to stick to these habits because they are part of our daily lives and come naturally to us.
Factors Behind Our Behavior and Habits
So, how do we know what to do?
This question involves a complex interplay between behavioral, social, emotional, and cognitive aspects. This complex interplay of cognitive processes, social context, emotional states, learned behaviors, biases, and developmental variables ultimately shapes our decisions and behavior.
Dr. BJ Fogg talks about the Fogg Model of Behavior, a theoretical construct that uses the interaction of three factors to describe human behavior. According to this model, three main elements shape our behavior: ability, motivation, and triggers. This paradigm helps explain why we do or do not take certain actions.
Motivation (M): The willingness or desire to act is referred to as motivation. Many things, including needs, desires, concerns, aspirations, and emotions, might have an impact on motivation. It is an essential component of behavior change since it propels people to take action.
Ability (A): An individual's ability refers to their capacity or ability to carry out a particular behavior. It encompasses elements such as the ability, time, knowledge, finances, and mental or physical effort needed to carry out the behavior. The ability to conduct a behavior increases with its ease of execution.
Triggers (T): Cues, or prompts, that start or stimulate an activity are known as triggers. They can be internal (thoughts, feelings, or behaviors) or external (environmental signals, reminders, etc.). Triggers are critical because they synchronize ability and motivation at the appropriate time to initiate behaviors.
Behavior (B) occurs when Motivation, Ability, and Triggers converge simultaneously.
Dr. BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits Technique is an approach to behavior change that makes it easier and more feasible to form new habits by starting with modest and manageable changes. It is based on the idea that small behaviors over time can lead to large and long-lasting behavioral changes. Fogg focuses on creating a roadmap for behavior change by starting with small, manageable measures and building on them over time. By accepting small victories and building small habits into regular routines, people can create long-term behavior change and habit formation.
How Can We Shape Our Habits?
By spending just five minutes a day to build momentum before growing our goals, we can start to turn our behaviors into habits. We can set aside five minutes daily to start a new routine, using a calendar or alarm to create reminders for ourselves. As our behavior becomes more routine, we can gradually increase the amount of time dedicated to the habit, and continue our behavior without break the chain of repeated behavior. In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear discusses four basic laws of habit formation, even in the microscopic scale.
- make it salient: The likelihood of a habit becoming routine can be significantly increased by creating cues or triggers to remind you to perform the behavior. For example, to gain the habit of drinking water regularly, you can leave a water bottle in the open or use your phone to remind you to drink more water.
- make it attractive: You are more likely to maintain a habit that is more appealing to you. Associating a habit with something pleasant or a pleasant experience can help make it more attractive. For example, if you want to exercise regularly, you could do a sporting activity that you enjoy or listen to your favorite podcast while you exercise.
- make it easy: You can break the habit into smaller, more manageable steps. For example, you can start by practicing the habit for just five minutes a day, and then gradually build up from there. The easier it is to start, the more likely it is to stick. This shows the basic logic of the starting microscopic step.
- make it satisfying: Habits can be reinforced with rewards or instant gratification. Rewarding yourself or creating a sense of satisfaction after completing a habit, even in small ways, can increase the enjoyment of the habit and encourage repetition.
In addition, James Clear talks about a concept called the "Seinfeld Strategy". This strategy is named after the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. By nearly any measure, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians, writers, and performers of his generation. Seinfeld's career is most amazing for its constancy, not its honors, profits, or memorable moments. His performances, creations, and entertainment are top-notch year after year. A lot of us wish we were as consistent as Jerry Seinfeld. That’s why this strategy is based on the idea that our motivation to maintain a habit increases with the repetition we spend doing it consistently. So it shows that, unless we break the chain, it becomes harder to lose the habit. The idea of breaking the chain is to indicate the number of consecutive days that an individual engages in a particular task or habit. When the habit fails to materialize one day, the chain is broken, and the days start from zero.
Link the New and the Old
When it comes to integrating new habits into the daily routine, author Charles Duhigg suggests in his book "The Power of Habit" doing so in conjunction with more established patterns. To facilitate the adoption of a new habit, it is helpful to associate it with an already established pattern or trigger. This allows you to use your brain's pre-existing neural pathways.
For example, if you want to read every day, you can associate it with something you already do, such as drinking coffee in the morning. Thus, the act of drinking coffee acts as a cue that makes you want to read, which in turn prompts you to read, and the satisfaction or education you get from reading can act as a reward.
In his book "The Power of Habit" Duhigg also introduces the idea of the habit cycle. This idea is about how we form and manage our habits and consists of four steps:
- Cue: A cue is the phenomenon that initiates a behavior. Anything that triggers our brain to start a certain routine can be the cause. Cues can be situational, emotional, environmental, or tied to a specific time of day. For example, an alarm clock can act as a trigger to get out of bed and start your morning routine. (make it salient)
- Craving: Craving is not only the urge or desire that drives us to follow the cue but also the anticipation of reward associated with habit. For instance, a feeling of hunger can trigger food cravings.
- Response: The action or behavior elicited by the cue and the request is known as a response. This is the actual routine or habit. For example, if hunger, a cue, causes a desire for food, the response might be to make a meal or buy something to eat.
- Reward: The happy or satisfying outcome that keeps the habit cycle going is the reward. It is what the mind attaches to performing the behavior. In the case of eating when hungry, the satisfaction or enjoyment of the food is the reward. (make it satisfying)
This cycle of habit reminds us of James Clear's four rules. The repetition of these projections in different approaches is actually due to the way our brains work.
Value Consistency over Intensity
When it comes to habits, the idea of prioritizing consistency over intensity emphasizes the value of small, consistent actions taken over time as opposed to sporadic, high-intensity efforts. Small actions taken consistently help make habits more resilient. It is possible to see this idea in the Seinfeld Strategy, which we have talked about before. While prolonged periods of intense work can lead to quick results, they can be difficult to sustain. In contrast, consistent action -even small- creates a routine that can be maintained over time. Strong efforts can be overwhelming, especially when major changes are attempted quickly. In contrast, smaller, more frequent activities are easier to tackle and less cognitively demanding, reducing the likelihood of burnout or giving up. Repeating a behavior regularly strengthens the brain's neural circuits associated with that habit. These neural circuits strengthen over time, increasing the automaticity of the habit and reducing the level of conscious effort required.
Research shows that forming a habit takes an average of two months. Therefore, building a habit should focus on regularity rather than intensity. For example, when trying to develop a reading habit, reading a few pages daily is more likely to become a sustainable and long-term habit than reading a book in one sitting now and then.
Acknowledge The Role of The Environment
In the context of habits and productivity, author Cal Newport emphasizes the impact of the environment on supporting in-depth focus and sustaining effective habits.
Creating an Environment to Support Habit Formation: This means organizing your environment to facilitate deep work or other desirable habit formation. For example, setting up a dedicated workstation free of distractions can foster an atmosphere conducive to concentrated work.
Removing Distractions as Much as Possible: It is very important to get rid of distractions and obstacles that prevent habits from developing. We can reduce the amount of external distractions by turning off notifications, blocking distracting websites, or creating physical barriers. This will make it easier to concentrate deeply and intently.
Cues and Consistency: Create cues in your environment that will cause a habit to start. For example, keeping your writing materials close at hand and designating a space for writing can serve as a cue to create a daily writing habit. Maintaining consistency in your environment facilitates the desired behavior and strengthens the habit cycle.
Not Relying on Motivation: Relying solely on motivation to complete tasks or develop habits can be unreliable. Instead, it may be more effective to focus on creating an atmosphere that facilitates the consistent practice of desirable behaviors and reduces dependence on occasional inspiration.
Newport suggests that prolonged periods of focus have certain limitations, being four hours for intensive work. Since attention is a finite resource, serious labor can lead to cognitive fatigue after a while. This is consistent with the idea that attention is a finite resource and that prolonged periods of high-intensity concentration cannot be sustained without breaks and recovery.
Be Patient and Forgiving, but Remain Sustainable
Psychologist Angela Duckworth talks about the importance of accepting setbacks as a necessary component of the path to success and demonstrating perseverance and resilience. According to Duckworth, people should accept making mistakes and experiencing failure as a normal part of learning new behaviors and achieving goals. Skipping a day or disrupting your routine doesn't mean your progress is lost. The important thing is to pick up where you left off the next day and keep moving forward despite setbacks.
The Idea of Grit: Duckworth's idea of grit emphasizes the importance of diligence and perseverance in achieving long-term goals. It speaks of the ability to pursue goals with unwavering perseverance and passion in facing difficulties or disappointments. This courage is about maintaining a long-term commitment to goals in the face of setbacks. It is often a more accurate indicator of success than mere talent or knowledge.
Courage, which includes traits such as desire, perseverance, and resilience, is essential for sustaining success and progress, especially in difficult circumstances or after failures. Therefore, the maintenance of habits depends more on courage than on achievement or talent.
The key to developing habits is to combine talent, consistency, motivation, and triggers. By adopting mindful behaviors, creating supportive and self-forgiving environments, and accepting failures as learning opportunities, we move toward long-term transformation. As we move forward, we can explore the depths of our subjective interests and create habits that speak to the core of who we are.
As we unravel the web of habit formation, we can also ask ourselves this question to create our own identity and perhaps better realize how we want to shape our habits: If it were possible to be unaffected by external factors and no one was interested, what habits would I want to form and what would I want to produce?