Habits: The Keys to Your Success

By Tiffany Battle on November 11, 2016

The word “habit” is usually used to refer to something you shouldn’t do. Smoking, nail biting, staying up until 3 A.M. “You should really kick that nasty habit,” We’ve all heard it at some time or another and respond with, “I know, I know, I really need to stop,”. But kicking bad habits can be as hard as admitting that Trump won the election.

On the other hand, positive habits can be difficult to initiate. Think of your New Year resolutions. How often have you kept them? How long have you even tried?

Thankfully difficulty does not equal impossibility, and we are all capable in our own ways of creating long-lasting positive daily habits, just as capable as we are of kicking the bad ones.

Now, you may be wondering, “How do habits work anyway?” Obviously certain habits, such as smoking, can be explained because of the addicting component in nicotine. But what about habits like swearing, biting your lip, or spending every waking moment on social media?



The Birth of a Habit

Our habit formation takes place in the basal ganglia, a part of our brain that deals with emotions and pattern recognition, rather than our decision formation, which takes place in the prefrontal cortex. Once our habitual behavior becomes automatic, active decision-making happens less and less, leaving our brain to function on auto-pilot. This is what allows us to drive while talking to someone else or even text (but don’t do this).

In your Basal Ganglia, habits operate on a system of cues and rewards. Something triggers you to engage in some habitual behavior, and after the behavior there is a reward, although we may not be conscious of what it is.

A good chunk of our waking life is spent performing habits we’ve mastered over the years. For instance, brushing our teeth, washing our face, or making our bed. Our day-to-day routines, that very rarely alter, are habits that leave our brains with much more time to think about more complex things than how to put our pants on.



How Positive Habits Can Change Our Lives

Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits — to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life, says that, “Studies suggest that we repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so if we change our habits, we change our lives,” which means that feeling more energetic, getting more of your work done, or even being a better partner or friend are within our control. Think of how drastically your life could improve if you finally finished cleaning out your garage, or starting drinking water every day, or got more than 6 hours of sleep each night.

Rubin states that habits are directly linked to our identities. If we believe that we are intelligent, and believe that intelligent people study for their exams, this will lead us to form study habits.

She believes that the most important step to forming positive habits is to understanding yourself. There’s an online quiz you can take that informs you on how you tend to respond to expectations. (I’m a Rebel, by the way!)

In addition to Rebels, there are also Upholders, Questioners, and Obligers, all with various responses to expectations. Once you understand what motivates you to form a habit, it won’t feel as much of a struggle, and soon enough you may just find that your life looks a little bit brighter.

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