What is a habit?
A habit is something that you do, feel or think in response to a specific condition, internal state or situation. It is a repeating tendency that is hard to give up or even control.
A habit is a mechanism in you that works by itself. It can be reflected in your behaviour but also in your inner dialogue or emotional reactions.
How do habits work?
All patterns work in the same way, even if they are only mental or emotional. Every type of habit, simple or complex, has the same structure. Understanding its mechanism will help you to break it.
Habits consist of four main parts:
A trigger tells your brain to switch to an automatic mode of behaviour, thought patterns or emotional reaction. It activates the habit mechanism.
It starts immediately after the trigger and is the driving force, the desire, behind every habit. It’s a reason why these patterns exist.
The automatic process of the habit itself, the response to the trigger and craving. It can be the activity you perform, a particular type of repetitive thoughts you have or your emotional experience. It’s the form of the pattern.
That’s what habit is all about. It is what satisfies your craving. What you crave is not the pattern itself but the change in your inner state that this pattern delivers. The same habit can bring different conditions to different people. For example, smoking may provide relaxation, relief, an opportunity to interact with others or an escape from boredom etc.
All patterns, even if they look different, they work similarly. They continue to build on the above four elements. By observing and analysing them, you can understand yourself, your needs and your attachments.
How do habits shape your life?
Habits limit you. They steal your energy and invest it in the unconscious patterns. So, it is essential to pay attention to them.
Many of your patterns you developed during your childhood. You likely don’t even remember when they began. They work by themselves, and you add new habits every year. With time, most of your daily life consists of routine and repetitive behaviours, thoughts and emotions.
All of them are unconscious. This means that you are not aware when you act, think or react emotionally while under the influence of the habits.
Each time you act unconsciously, you lose your energy. Instead, you are investing the energy into the mechanism of the pattern, in its craving and routine. The more automatic your life is, the less energy is accessible for you.
If you repeat a pattern for years, the mechanism becomes stronger. When it controls you, you cannot get by without the desired reward. Some patterns become an addiction, which is just the most potent form of a habit, maintaining the exact mechanism. While some of these automatic behaviours may seem helpful and practical, a big part of them is simply limiting you and making your existence mechanical.
How do you start working with your habits?
You cannot work with all of them at once. You have a limited amount of energy, and you will need this energy to change your patterns.
It would be best if you started with the most harmful routines, those that go against your life purpose or destroy your health. Think about your life goal, what is important to you and which patterns lead you in the opposite direction. You can recognise them by experiencing any internal conflict while “practising” them.
Start with one habit at a time and work on it until you get the desired results.
Breaking the habit
Habits provide certain rewards or benefits, be they physical or emotional, in life. It is challenging to let them go or to replace them immediately.
There are specific steps you can take to break them:
The first step is finding the motivation.
Motivation helps you to gather the energy necessary to change. To be successful, you need to gain more power than the habit. The higher the motivation, the more likely you are to get to the root of the pattern and understand it.
The second step is to determine the trigger.
You need to see and realise the situation in which this habit occurs. A trigger can be a specific time of day, a specific place, your emotional condition, the presence of others, or any action immediately preceding the action or thought. An awareness of the trigger brings an understanding of the whole pattern. So, it would help if you looked at your life every day to notice the cue; it’s often a very unconscious factor.
Once you realise the trigger, you should look at the craving and the reward.
The reward is powerful because it satisfies the craving. The craving can have many layers, and at the beginning, you may see only the surface. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself. It always comes down to what you hold on to or resist. Recognising the natural causes of habits is crucial in overcoming them.
When you realise your craving and what triggers it, create a new “healthy” pattern. It should meet similar needs and be aligned with your purpose. Suppose you try to stop your habit without replacing it first. In that case, you risk that the energy invested in it will create a new “unhealthy” behaviour. Also, without doing this, you leave the door open for the old pattern to come back after some time. The most crucial part of breaking up habits is self-awareness. Your habits may answer many questions about who you are, what you want in life and what you fear the most. It is a fantastic tool on the path to self-discovery. Only if you go to the deepest root of the pattern and heal its causes, then can you drop your habit for good.