Any act often repeated soon forms a habit; and habit allowed, steadily gains in strength. At first it may be but as a spider’s web, easily broken through, but if not resisted it soon binds us with chains of steel. ~ American theologian Tryon Edwards (1809–1894)
Most of the choices we make each day feel like well-considered decisions. In reality, ingrained habits determine much of what we think, speak and do.
Research has shown that the average person has approximately 40,000 thoughts per day, but 95% are the same ones experienced the day before. Other studies support the notion that 40% of our daily actions are based on habits and routines, not newly formed decisions. The good news is that habits were learned and we can choose new habit to learn.
Our habits—what we say, eat and do, and how we organize our thoughts and work routines— have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.
In the last two decades, scientists have begun to understand how habits are formed, how they work and, more importantly, how we can change them. As New York Times staff writer Charles Duhiggreveals in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012):
- Before Pepsodent entered the market in the early 20th century, only 7% of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine chests. A decade later, the number had jumped to 65%, thanks to Claude Hopkins’ legendary advertising campaigns. The tooth brushing habit was firmly established.
- Procter & Gamble turned a spray called Febreze into a billion-dollar brand by taking advantage of consumers’ habitual urge to “breathe happy” and eliminate odors.
- Alcoholics Anonymous reforms lives and enables people to live free from powerful addictions by redirecting self-destructive habits into constructive routines.
- By changing one small keystone habit (like safety precautionsor tracking and measuring),individuals and companies can influence everyday routines, leading to widespread results.
Habits emerge because the brain is constantly seeking ways to conserve energy. It looks for a cue that becomes the trigger for a habitual (unconscious) response. We are then rewarded with a blast of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.
The process is a three-step physiological loop:
- A trigger event or cue occurs.
- There’s an automatic (unconscious) response (physical, mental or emotional).
- A reward helps the brain decide that this loop is worth remembering for the future.
Over time, the habit loop becomes increasingly automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation emerges.
This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings.Most of the time, these cravings form so gradually that we’re not even aware they exist. We’re often blind to their influence because they have become unconscious.