Are habits good or bad for us?
How a habit is formed and just how helpful are they?
Hello fellow Protagonists,
Which shoe do you tend to tie first? For me it is always my left shoe.
How do you start your day? Do you get straight up and into the shower, make breakfast first or lunge straight for your phone to scroll through social media?
We have our own unique actions as well. I brush my mustache with my bottom lip when I am concentrating. Strange I know and my wife picks me up on it all the time.
Believe it or not I don't sit there and think "Damn I need to caress my mustache right now, it's been far too long."
These are all habits and we can do them without realising. They are our go-to action/response when faced with a certain situation.
All habits are not labelled equally. Some habits we class as being healthy, useful or helpful; other habits we class as being unhealthy, useless or unhelpful.
We may have a habit of going to the gym straight after work, reading books through our lunch breaks or adding vegetables to every evening meal (I am not falling into the dinner or supper debate).
We may also have a habit of smoking whenever we feel stressed, binge watching TV for hours each night, or spending way more than we hoped to on shopping trips.
So why can we have both positive and negative habits?
That is because habits themselves have different rules for what is good or bad. Good for habits means to find something what works, is perceived as rewarding and feels good at the time.
Habits are designed to make our lives easier, to take away the number of choices we have to make each day.
Some sources suggest we make up to 35,000 choices a day! That would be a choice every 2 seconds when we are awake.
If we had to actively think about each one of these choices we would be in a constant state of paralysis as the choices would just come fast and frequently.
Our brains decide to create shortcuts to manage most of these decisions, based on previous experiences, so that precious mental energy can be used on the tougher, newer or more meaningful decisions.
We only get so much mental energy (willpower) each day and when it runs out, it needs time, energy and rest to restock.
We all may be able to associate with a day when our willpower reaches zero.
In this sense habits are great as they stop our brains melting.
The trouble is that our minds create shortcuts for us that can also harm us.
If we get home from a tough day at work, feel tired and reach for some chocolate for some fast energy, our mind realises that eating chocolate has made us feel better and given us a instant (but short lived) energy boost, whilst sending dopamine around our system.
The new shortcut is now created that "whenever we feel tired after work, chocolate makes us feel better". This could also be extended in time to just "when we are tired, chocolate makes us feel better".
Before we know it we are grabbing some chocolate every day when we get home and maybe finishing off the whole bar in the evening when we feel tired again.
Eventually, over time the dopamine hit kicks in when thinking about eating the chocolate, not even during the action of eating it. Then if we decide to resist this temptation our mind throws it's rattle out of the pram and buckets of willpower is then required to make sure we do not follow that set habit.
This can be why habits are so hard to change, especially when we are trying to solely focus on willpower alone to make that change.
Fortunately we can create new habits, new neurological pathways in our brains, to create a new go-to action. We were not born eating chocolate, smoking and binge watching 90's sitcoms.
To answer the question if habits are good or bad depends completely on how they are working for you. Habits are vital for our daily living so we can not really call something that is vital bad. It would be like saying that air is bad.
When formed and changed effectively habits can be our greatest ally.
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