Habits play a large part in determining how we react and respond to events around us. Below is a summary of how they are formed and how we can change them.
How they are formed
Habits, like other learned behaviours, begin to be formed at a very early age. They are formed through watching the reactions and behaviours of our parents and others close to us. Then, as we develop, they are further influenced by our friends, by society and by our own unique personal experiences. They are continually being re-enforced through repetition, until they become automatic.
In addition, they are actively and deliberately instilled in us through a process of moral habituation. Here, parents and educators, actively try to instil in us what are considered to be good habits through encouragement and reward. We are also punished for behaviours they consider are bad.
The importance of habits
Their importance is supported by studies that have shown that as much as half of our daily activities could be rated as habitual.
There is an evolutionary benefit to this kind of behaviour. While we are completing some tasks in an automated way, our mind is able to spend less energy and is free to take on other tasks. In fact, when we are acting habitually, a different part of our brain called the basal ganglion is activated rather than the decision-making prefrontal cortex.
Also, habits are passed from one generation to the next. Our parent's behaviour patterns (both positive and negative) were inherited from their parents in the same way that we learned from them. So by modifying and improving our habits, we a breaking a chain of behaviours that may have been passed on for many generations. We then have an opportunity to positively influence future generations.
Changing negative habits
Along with the good habits we have learned from our parents and through our life experiences, there are of course also negative ones and these are often hard to break.
There are a number of techniques that can be combined and used to change habits in a positive way. These all need to be then followed-up by practice.
One method is to identify and then reflect on our negative habits. This helps us to clearly identify the types of behaviours we need to change.
Another method is to strengthen our resolve and self-control by identifying and focusing on the goals that are important to us.
Another method is to identify and weaken the influence of the negative self-talk. This subconscious dialogue is created during the habituation process and arises when we are trying to improve our behavior.
There are also visualization techniques that can motivate and inspire us.
These techniques will work together to strengthen our resolve and change habitual behaviours in ways that will lead us to accomplish our desired goals.