Bad Habits

How are Habits Formed?

Most of us worry a lot about breaking bad habits but have you ever thought about what you would have to do to form a new habit?

Many people might tell you that you can form any habit you want if you have enough willpower. But since willpower is not something that you can buy at the supermarket, this article could be more helpful to you.

You should first know how habits are formed. This happens through a process called “context-dependent repetition.” For example, imagine that each time you get home in the evening, you eat a snack. The first time you ate a snack upon getting home, a mental link was formed between the context (getting home) and your response to that context (eating a snack).

After that, each time you eat a snack in response to getting home, this link strengthens to the point that getting home makes you eat a snack automatically, without giving the act any thought. A habit has formed.

If you want to do things like exercising regularly, eating healthy food, tidying up regularly, sleeping regular hours at night, or keeping a diary, automatically without relying on conscious thought, memory or willpower, here is what you should do to form a habit:

7 Tips to Form a Habit

  • 1)If- then Plans: Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer found that when people from what he calls “an implementation intention,” a plan that says “If this happens, I’ll do this,” the success rate is double that when you set a goal for yourself. You might say, “If I get up in the morning, then I’ll take a walk.” That way, the situation (waking up) causes the behavior (walking) automatically without thinking about it.
  • 2)Switch Strategies: When people begin to think they are not making any progress in forming the desirable habit, they feel desperate and start thinking, “I haven’t gone on my walk for the past three days so what the hell, I may as well take the rest of the week off.” In this case, you may tell yourself that if failure mounts, you will switch strategies. If, for example, walking is not helping you with forming the habit of exercising, you may start going to the gym instead.
  • 3)Keep Track: Making a record of success and failure is useful. Also, share your plans of developing the habit you desire with your family and friends. It was found that getting honest and constructive feedback (not just compliments and praise) when you make progress can strongly encourage you.
  • 4)Use a Friend: Comparing your results and competing with a friend (avoid doing that in any other case) trying to form the same habit could also motivate you. You can agree with your friend that every week the one who has not stuck to the desired behavior has to pay the other a certain amount of money.
  • 5)Trick your Subconscious: You can play a simple trick on your subconscious by linking up what seems difficult to do every day with something you like doing. If you, for example, like watching a certain soap opera, you tell yourself that you can’t watch it if you don’t do the task related to the desired habit.
  • 6)It Gets Easier: The more you do what you are supposed to do, the easier it gets. Psychologist Roy Baumeister says that self-control works like a muscle: it gets stronger with use.
  • 7)Watch your stress level: Don’t get disappointed or discouraged if you don’t make much progress during stressful times. Instead, try to control your stress level.

How Long Would That Take?

If you are trying to adopt a new habit, you would probably ask yourself how long it would take before this behavior becomes automatic.

96 people interested in forming a new habit, such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch or doing a 15-minute run every day, participated in a study held by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues from the United Kingdom.

Participants were then asked daily how automatic their chosen behaviors have become. They were asked, for example, whether the behavior had stopped being “hard to do” and “could be done without thinking.”

It was found that it took the participants an average of 66 days to reach the maximum automaticity for their chosen behavior. However, although the study said that the average for forming a habit is 66 days, it was found that depending on the complexity of the habit, it can take anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days.

It is easy to imagine that drinking a daily glass of water can become automatic quickly while doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast can be more difficult to get used to.

The study also found out that skipping a single day can’t ruin your habit formation. But it is advisable not to skip days during the early repetitions of your chosen behavior since the first number of times you practice this behavior are the most important and effective in its becoming a habit.

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