Think about how stressful it was to drive for the first time. Backing a car out of a driveway is a complicated task for a teenage driver but with practice and a driver’s education class, it becomes an automatic habit.
According to a paper published by Duke University, 40% of the actions you perform are not actual decisions, but habits. Habits, at essence, are a time management tool. Your mind would be constantly fatigued if it couldn’t go on autopilot while you perform familiar tasks. Having to make conscious decisions all day would be overwhelming, so it searches for ways to save time and trouble.
Habits aren’t something you’re stuck with, though. They are shaped by the actions you repeat consistently throughout your days. You weren’t born with an ability to dress yourself. A parent or guardian taught you how to perform this task. You then repeated the procedure until it became second nature. Getting dressed used to be a conscious decision, but now it’s a cemented habit.
The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between a productive habit and one that is destructive. Put simply, any behavior can become habit if it is repeated consistently enough whether it is constructive or not.
To illustrate, let’s imagine a person who struggles with overeating. Maybe they eat in front of their computer or TV, because eating isn’t special to them. It is nothing more than a “distraction” from their busy day. They could also seek comfort in food, underestimate the impact of their daily snacking habits, or believe they must eat everything on their plate since throwing it away would be “wasteful.”
They aren’t making a conscious decision to eat more calories than their body requires. Overeating is a habitual behavior that occurs due to a lack of awareness (distracted eating), emotional state (cravings), failure to plan (no set meal times), or preconceived beliefs (“Clean your plate!”).
They are exhausted after work, so they eat while absorbed in a television show. They feel emotionally drained in the afternoon, so they seek something sweet that might provide temporary relief. Their parents encouraged them to eat “every last bite,” so they finish off their child’s leftovers without stopping to consider the net effect of those extra calories.
Sound hopeless? It’s not. If a habit doesn’t serve you, then it doesn’t have any place in your life. Come back next week, when I’ll teach you how to transform your habits with cues and rewards.
About the Author
Daniel Wallen is the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of the Wallen Way. He is a personal trainer, Lifehack contributor, and author of, “The Busy Woman’s Guide to Getting Fit, Fierce, and Fabulous.”