Habits Influence Our Behavior More Than We Realize

Humans are creatures of routine. We form routines and patterns of behavior, regardless of regardless of whether they’re healthy or not. Although they’re helpful to stay on track but they can be detrimental when they’re established, they can be extremely difficult to change.

If habits can be that influential, how much influence do they exert in our behavior? Recent research suggests that far we often underestimate the influence of habits on our actions.

The Research

The research on behavior describes habits as those that are effortless, unintentional, or not controllable, and not conscious of what you’re doing. In addition, the length of time needed to establish the habit is extensively debated. Some research suggests that it takes four weeks, while other studies believe it could take longer.

A new study examines the effect of internal states, like mood, on behaviour by studying the participants’ perceptions of the behavior. The researchers conducted two research studies in order to understand the idea. One study involved participants being required to remember the happy, sad, or neutral moment before they were asked to complete an unrelated task that taught them either the strong or poor habit of using certain keys on computers. 3

After the initial training session the participants were asked to decide using one of the computer keys in order to determine if they would be willing to give extra time and effort to this research. While those who were taught to press a specific button were likely answer the question using the exact key, when required to explain why they chose that particular key the participants had a higher likelihood of attribution their choices to their inner state rather than practices, even if the behaviour was influenced by habits. 3

In a subsequent study, researchers enlisted participants to record their coffee drinking patterns over a five-day period. They were asked participants to provide information on levels of fatigue levels as well as the intensity of their coffee drinking habits The results revealed that the participants “miscalibrated these behavioral influences” in that they attributed their coffee consumption to the effects of fatigue when their fatigue levels were largely similar. 3

Both studies showed that participants emphasized habits and valued inner states of mind, such as fatigue and mood. 3 Clinical psychologist Debra Kawahara, PsyD, notes that, similar to this study, prior research has also revealed that people believe that mood and emotion influence their behaviour as opposed to the habits they’ve created in the course of time.

“People typically want to think that their capacity for self-determination and self-regulation are better and stronger than they really are,” Kawahara declares. “We want to believe that we are the decision-makers of our behavior, and our behaviors are not automatic and unintentional.”

Since routines are second-nature and routine, you may not even realize the routine actions that comprise your day. They are a significant aspect of our identity in time, Kawahara says.

“Once the habit loop is formed, the part of the brain that is needed to focus on the behavior or activity is no longer needed and it frees up so our brain can focus on other activities or behavior,” Kawahara says.

How We Form New Habits

A licensed professional counselor Taish Malone PhD LPC believes that feelings patterns, patterns, and memories can be a key factor in the development of the habit. The connection between us is strengthened when we are rewarded or favorable outcome each time we do something and the feelings we feel in connection with that reward are recorded as memories.

“Even when the action doesn’t bring about the reward it once did, your memory of the experience pattern suggests that it is still likely that this reward will happen,” Malone states. “Your memory and your feelings are invested in practicing the habit all the same in hopes of once again being rewarded, so now we have a more ingrained pattern.”

Therefore, it’s evident that to establish the habit of a new one, adding an incentive system can help the process.

“If practice and incentives are the glue that solidifies the strength of a habit, one sure fire way of forming a positive habit is to work backwards,” Malone suggests.

She suggests first determining an incentive, reward, or incentive, and then engaging in behavior that results in the reward. If, for instance, you’re looking to get more exercise but are afraid of running you can identify a treat or a place you could add to the end of the run. If you’re working at home, selecting an episode you enjoy and only allowing yourself listen to episodes while you work out could be the incentive that you require to make working out a routine portion of your routine.

“We can either be influenced by favorable actions and follow the sequence to naturally develop positive habits or can use the properties of neuroplasticity to intentionally rewire one’s brain to create desired results,” Malone states.

“Rewiring one’s brain” may appear like a serious enterprise however humans are highly flexible creatures. If you’re looking to begin an exercise routine that is healthy or stop a bad one and reward yourself for it, you should be an incentive.

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