I think very few of us are actually aware of how much we rely on habits in our everyday lives. From perfectly knowing the way home from work/school because we’ve walked it over and over for years, to getting hungry at a certain hour because we always eat at that time, studies show that about 40-45% of our daily activity is done from force of habit.

We are used to doing certain things in a certain way – we wake up at a particular hour, follow a particular morning routine, use particular forms of public transport, go to work or school in the same place for the same amount of hours and so on.

But where do these habits even come from? Why do we suddenly switch to autopilot?

First of all, a habit is a pattern of behaviour repeated a number of times great enough for it to be learned and performed with little conscious control. In other words, an action becomes a habit when, after having been repeatedly performed, it is completely acquired by the brain and then fulfilled successfully without needing 100% of your attention.

However, a habit does not completely escape your consciousness – you are aware of what you are doing and can alter your behaviour to fit a new situation, but you don’t have to actively focus on the individual steps to perform the actions that complete said habit.

For example, when we were little and our parents showed us the way home to school, we had to pay a great deal of attention to our surroundings, pick landmarks to guide us in case we got lost and so on. A few months afterwards, though, we didn't need to be so attentive to the route because we had already memorized it and we could talk on the phone or with a friend, and later, listen to music, text etc.

And it’s not just this – when we wake up in the morning, we follow a certain sequence of steps, our night routines have their own steps as well, and so do our working days.

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We are all used to doing some things in our lives in a particular way, we’ve been doing so for a long time, therefore the elements of our morning routines, night routines, working routines have become habits. If, by any chance and for whatever reason, we are unable to perform something in these routines the way we know we always did, we may end up feeling frustrated or upset.

Because ultimately, habits are proof of monotony, of a lack of change – which is comfortable for it is predictable. All humans strive for predictability and uncertainty reduction – we want to know what will happen, because this way we feel safe and comfortable. If you had to go to work or school on an entirely new, different route every single day, you would end up being tense and stressed, even if at first it may seem fun and challenging.

Habits can last for a lifetime, and there is an actual, psychological explanation for that – habits result from the correlation between a functional need that somebody experiences and the skills required to fulfill it. This need is usually constant, the actions that lead to its fulfillment are always the same – so the habit stays with the person until one or both of these elements disappear. A change in lifestyle, beliefs or attitudes can render some of the old habits useless, and encourage the formation of new ones.

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But the way we are doing things and/or are used to doing them is not necessarily the correct/rightful/beneficial way for us to actually do it. Smoking is a bad habit, and so is procrastinating, overspending, skipping breakfast and drinking too much alcohol. These bad habits are all acquired because they are motivated - by feelings/beliefs/attitudes - and the actions themselves have been repeated enough for them to become part of one’s routine.

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So, how do we get rid of bad habits?

Most importantly, by acknowledging they are bad and that we need to stop performing them for our own good. If the former part can be done rather easily, the latter…not so much. We often do things that we are aware are bad for us because we enjoy them, or because we feel that we must do them - we just can’t imagine living without them. But if we’re sincerely convinced that our behaviour needs to change, then we are on the way to success.

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Ridding of a bad habit usually requires forming a new habit in order to replace it. Creating an alternative, positive behaviour to a bad one ultimately leads to the disappearance of the latter.

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All of this takes a lot of willpower, though. Habits are one of the strongest driving forces of our behaviour and it can be very difficult to replace them and break them. You can end up feeling depressed, anxious, angry, ready to give up – but if you keep telling yourself that this is all for your own good and growth and fight the impulses to reverse to your bad habits, you will see that, once you’ve succeeded, you feel much better about yourself and you’re infinitely stronger.

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The support of your loved ones, a clear goal, good distractions and, if necessary, professional help, can make you overcome a moment when it feels as though our bad habits are winning.

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We do a lot of things on autopilot… and that can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It all depends on whether your habit repeats a positive behaviour, or a negative one – and you can find the answer to which one it is by evaluating the pros and cons of performing the habit. Try to be as objective as possible!

Habits are powerful forces in our psyche – but in the end, they are simply results of our own behaviour and we are the ones to decide whether we want to continue performing them or not. We are the masters of our minds, after all.