A habit forms over time as you do a task over and over. You might find that when you perform an everyday task like brushing your teeth before bed, your brain almost turns off. These tasks don’t require much effort or thought to complete. That’s because habits form pathways in your brain that help make the motions automatic. This autopilot mode can work to your advantage — or your disadvantage — depending on what the habit is.
Some habits, such as brushing your teeth, shampooing your hair or getting dressed, have clear benefits. These habits are an important part of daily living and allow you to function well and take care of yourself.
Furthermore, during these daily tasks, you often can devote brainpower to something more important, like planning out your day. When you form a habit, it can allow you to multitask more easily, which saves you time.
Habits also give your life predictability — which your brain likely craves. Established and clear routines can help reduce stress and improve your mood. They can also help prime your brain for transitions. For instance, a sleep routine is an excellent habit for helping you fall asleep more quickly and get a better night’s sleep.
Positive thinking is also a good habit that can allow you to self-regulate and cope with negative situations. How you think is one of your oldest habits, and it can have one of the largest impacts on your well-being.
Disadvantages of certain habits
Of course, not all habits are good. You may overeat if your brain goes on autopilot while snacking in front of the TV, or maybe you bite your nails in stressful situations. These types of habits are detrimental to your health.
But other habits that are not as apparent may also hurt your well-being. For instance, you might have the same thoughts over and over. These thoughts might be negative, such as thinking you can’t accomplish something or that you aren’t good at speaking with others. When you repeatedly think negative thoughts like these, they may end up feeling like fact — when they aren’t true at all.
How to make your habits work for you
You can take advantage of your brain’s autopilot mode by consciously making healthy choices over and over again until they become new habits.
To eliminate bad habits, you need to understand that a habit is made up of three components:
- The cue or trigger that sends your brain into autopilot mode
- The routine thoughts and actions you take
- The reward for performing the habit
If you want to get rid of a bad habit, you need to replace the reward with something healthier. For instance, you might enjoy watching TV and eating because you find it relaxing. But taking a walk is also relaxing. When you feel the cue to relax, say after you have finished cleaning the kitchen at night, put on your workout clothes and go for a walk instead of heading to the couch.
As you repeat the new routine over and over, your brain will start craving the reward — relaxing after a nice walk. That’s how you can create a new habit or replace an old one. Give your brain a reward it wants — and keep repeating that habit over and over.
By believing you can change your negative habits, you can get new ones that work to your advantage. Give yourself time to establish a healthy habit, and keep at it to create a new and improved autopilot mode for your brain.
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