What is a Habit?

by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, July 3, 2001, Revised

We will be discussing habits here. All kinds of habits. Our lives are made up of habits. Almost everything we do involves the use of habitual behavior. Think about it. You get up in the morning and use habits to get ready to start the day. Otherwise, you would have to relearn everything you do – combing your hair, brushing your teeth, dressing, working the toaster, and even pouring a glass of milk.

The biggest part of our discussions will be changing habits. How do we go about changing a habit? Sounds simple enough. You just do it differently. Then you get up the next day and do it differently again. Or you stop doing the habitual behavior. And the next day you get up and stop doing it again. Try doing just one thing different in your morning routine. If you usually get dressed before eating breakfast, eat breakfast first, then get dressed. Or you could make it a bit more difficult. If you aren’t used to eating breakfast, get up and eat first, then get dressed. Then practice your new habits every morning. 

Daily habits might not be too hard, but what about those habitual behaviors that you dislike; the things you do that bug you or those around you? These are the habits that are hard to change. And these are the habits we’ll work on here.

A habit is an activity that is acquired, done frequently, done automatically, and difficult to stop.  Most people think of behaviors when they think of habits, but thoughts can also become habits. Sometimes our habitual thinking can keep habitual behaviors going and make them hard to change. We’ll be discussing thinking habits quite a bit here.

Habits can be good or bad. Good habits help us get through our daily lives. When we drive, we use a number of habits – behaviors that are acquired and done automatically. Stopping at red lights, slowing down when going through a school zone, buckling seat belts. These are all good habits that protect us when we drive. Of course, we can also develop some pretty bad habits, ones that can be harmful to us, and to other people. Speeding through red lights and school zones and driving without a seat belt are examples of bad habits.

How do we know if a habit is a good one, a bad one – or neither good nor bad? This is one of the first steps in habit change. You can begin to make this determination now. Divide a piece of paper into four parts. Write “Advantages of Keeping Habit” in one section and “Disadvantages of Keeping Habit in the next section. Then write “Advantages of Changing,” and “Disadvantages of Changing” in the next two sections. List all the advantages and disadvantages of keeping or changing the habit in question.

Be sure to check out The Habit Change Workbook:
How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones