From the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night, hidden habits are working away within our subconscious. Throughout the day they manifest themselves in a variety of ways, many of which we might be entirely oblivious to. From vocal ticks to gestures, movements and behaviours, understanding the process of habit formation can help us break out of cycles and create new ones.
Over the last few decades there have been huge numbers of articles, books and research papers written about the power of habits in our daily lives. All this research has gone into producing a pretty thorough understanding of just how habits work – an understanding that has been increasingly co-opted by corporations in their quest to anticipate consumer behaviours and manipulate trends.
Habits In Our Lives
In our own lives it can often be harder to detect when we are acting habitually because the behaviours are so hardwired into our subconscious thinking. The process of enacting a habit can be broken down into three constituent stages, also known as a ‘habit loop’:
- Trigger – an external event tells your brain to let a behaviour unfold
- Routine – the action of performing the behaviour itself
- Reward – something your brain likes that helps it remember the loop in future
Studies have shown that environment plays an important role in cementing these habit loops within our behaviour. If we are in the same place with the same people every day it becomes hard to think our way out of the loop, as environmental triggers activate the same routines before we even realise it.
How do we change these habits?
Part of the key to changing these patterns is to disrupt or change our environment in some way. One often-repeated example is that if you want to quit smoking it is better to do so while on vacation and away from your usual surroundings. Once the loop has been severed for a short period of time, away from the usual contextual triggers, it becomes easier to re-enter our day-to-day environment without activating the same old behaviour pattern again.
Of course, it’s not necessary to take a vacation every time we want to shake up our habitual selves! Simply making small conscious changes to the world around us can have profound effects. Taking a different route to work, working in a different room of the house, changing the usual background music or the old décor: all these little changes can serve as cues to wake up our brain and switch off the autopilot.