Habits 101


: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior (her habit of taking a morning walk)

: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary (got up early from force of habit)

Over the past three weeks of our Revive Campaign we have been focused on our healthy habits – getting in our 10,000 steps, drinking 4 litres of water, prepping our food and getting more sleep.

We have had many successes and lots of failures too. Some days we have 8, 000 steps by 8am and have downed 2 litres of water by 10am. On other days, it is 4pm and our step count hasn’t passed 2,000, the only water we have consumed came via our morning latte and we haven’t touched anything close to resembling a vegetable.

So – we decided to take a deep dive into why some days are so successful while others go off the rails.

Reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits and Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit helped us as we reflected on our good and not so good days. As we look back at our days that we felt great and accomplished the health goals we set, we realized a lot of our success (or not) was routed in our habits that are fully formed and those that may not be quite as firmly entrenched as we need them to be.

According to experts with Psychology Today, habits form when new behaviors become automatic and are enacted with minimum conscious awareness. That’s because “the behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways.”

Why Do We Have Habits?

One of the main reasons we have habits is to make our lives easier and more efficient. We can readily perform routine behaviours like brushing our teeth without wasting energy deliberating on it.

“In fact, the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down. … And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

Simply put, habits help us operationalize our daily routine. For example, you would never take the time to debate if you should pour a cup of coffee, if you should have the cup in the morning or maybe after work. Or how long you should drink the coffee for. Same goes for brushing your teeth or making your bed.

This same unconscious effort should go for our health habits. The less energy we have to put into completing the tasks that contribute most to our health, the more likely they are to happen and the more rooted the behaviours become.

The Habit Loop…how habits are formed

Habits form as a result of what is known as the “Habit Loop”. Traditionally the Habit Loop has been thought to have three main components that work together for habit formation: the cue, the routine, and the reward. James Clear talks about a similar process , although his is a 4 step process: cue, cravings, response, reward.

The cue is something that triggers us to think of a certain behaviour. If it is a long standing habit, you may not even be aware of the cue within your environment – which may be a person, an event a feeling or even a song or smell.

In Clear’s model, the next step in the process is the craving that the cue induces. The brain is so conditioned to be brought back into balance, you immediately move on to your routine or habit to solve for your craving.

So next up is the routine we follow. Our habits our interconnected, in that we tend to do things in an identical way each time. The things we do before and after a behaviour is part of the habit. This is routine. Our brains like to follow patterns and clearly defined systems – making it easy and efficient to solve the problem of the craving.

Finally, we arrive at our reward. Rewards come in many forms, physical and emotional. For example, if your habit helps you feel emotionally better, that is your reward. You brain will help you move toward the positive outcome you are seeking.

Consciously or unconsciously are lives are made up of many habits – big and small. Some move us towards our goals and others don’t.

Next Week we will examine our top tips for forming healthy habits daily. Let’s make our health habits as simple as pouring a cup of coffee.