As the alarm blares on a peaceful morning, what’s the first thing you do? Do you instinctually hit the snooze button? Scramble out of bed to find your running shoes? Reach for a cup of coffee? Brush first, or take a shower? If it’s the same ritual morning-after-morning, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month—congratulations—you’re a creature of habit.
A gift of human evolution, habits automate specific patterns of thought and action. In doing so, they reduce mental labor, or cognitive load. Imagine if you had to apply your mind every time you washed your hands, checked your phone or waved hello. Lucky you don’t need to, because having habits enables you to carry out repeated behaviors without thinking about them at every step. This way, you can turn your attention to tasks that need more effort.
But like everything else, habits have a flipside. The effects of routine and repetition are amplified, and this can go either way. It’s great if you’ve made a habit of being punctual, or exercising regularly, or listening intently, or looking after yourself; but what if disruptive behavior becomes automated? What if you’re hopelessly addicted to social media, or eating junk food? What if you find yourself procrastinating frequently, or get used to a sedentary existence?
Don’t worry yet. With willingness, time, patience and the right techniques, human behavior is moldable. Reinforcement and repetition—the two components of habit-building—can help you learn new habits that are desirable but difficult to acquire, and unlearn old ones that seem impossible to stamp out. A closer look at the process of behavior-building reveals how you can start tailoring strategies to facilitate habit-formation in your own life:
Below are two pillars that will help in building habits:
1. How to build a good habit Tip 1 – Reinforcement
Reinforcement is a consequence that follows a behavior, increasing its likelihood. It can be either positive or negative, and how it’s structured has a direct effect on the shaping of that behavior. Consider this: a child makes her bed, so her parents reward her with fulsome praise (positive reinforcement). This incentivizes the child to make her bed again. Similarly, you can tailor rewards for yourself by identifying what motivates you.
2. How to build a good habit Tip 2- Repetition
Repetition is key. It functions as a precedent to automation—the defining juncture at which any given behavior becomes a habit. If the praise-hungry child makes her bed daily for months on end (repetition), it’s likely that making her bed becomes a lasting habit that carries over into adulthood. Now, the new habit recurs without the initial reward. The takeaway is this: in the early stages of habit-building, focusing on mindful repetition can reap big dividends.
The pursuit of creating good habits is easier said than done, but it’s possible. By giving your behavior deliberate thought, then taking requisite action, you’re laying the foundation for a life that’s more wholesome. Conditioning applies.
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