Habits & Routines: Why we do what we do

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Habits & Routines: Why we do what we do

Habits and routines determine our daily lives. Some of them are useful and helpful, others unnecessary or even harmful. We're talking about the cozy after-work beer, the party smoking on the weekend or your daily chocolate bar while drinking coffee. Actually, the bar is much too sweet for you, yet it finds its way into your mouth day after day. No wonder, because our good and bad habits guide us through everyday life. It is true that we believe that our will controls our behavior. But in truth, in many cases, we are simply acting out of habit.

Researchers suspect that up to 50 percent of our actions are determined by habits. The curious thing is that even though we get information that speaks against our habits, we don't change our behavior. Because of course you know that candy bar is unhealthy and that you would save quite a few calories without it. But somehow it just comes with the territory. And even though you know better, you follow your habit. Take five minutes and think about which of your daily routines are really good for you and which ones are robbing you of time, energy or your health. Well, how many can you think of?

What are habits?

Habits are personal behaviors that we regularly reel off without thinking about them or questioning their pros and cons. As a rule, we have made a conscious decision at some point, which we then repeat by default. Because if we had to weigh up and decide anew every time, it would cost us an extremely large amount of attention and concentration. That's why our brain is happy about Habits and routineswith the help of which it saves effort and energy. According to the motto: Every decision that has already been made can be adopted 1:1.

Habits are therefore quite practical for your energy balance. Thanks to them, you can direct your concentration to important issues and trust that you will automatically act correctly even in stressful situations. For example, if you oversleep and rush to work stressed out, you'll still find your way. Simply and solely because your way to work is absolutely routine for you and you would never get lost or lost your way despite the hectic pace. Habits therefore save our brain from hopeless Overload. But saving energy comes at a price: it happens subconsciously and is therefore extremely difficult to change.

Get rid of negative habits

Because our brains don't distinguish between good and bad habits, negative behavior can creep in pretty easily. Once it's there - for example, in the form of your daily unhealthy chocolate bar - it's hard to get rid of. Yet the principle for overcoming bad habits is actually quite simple. It comes from cognitive behavioral therapy and says: Recognize your behavior patterns, interrupt them and replace them with new ones. This works particularly well with the following three steps:

1. observe yourself

Habits are formed by stimuli from our environment. This means that they are often in the context of social practices. Maybe you like to eat your chocolate bar every day because your colleague, with whom you spend your lunch break, does the same. And because it's your cherished ritual to chat over coffee while snacking on a bar.

So it's an action that you repeat in a specific setting: you eat your bar every day at the usual time in the usual environment with the same colleague. And since your chocolate bar is part of the setting, so to speak, it would be easiest to change exactly that. For example, you could spend your lunch break not in the cafeteria, but outside in the fresh air. Because every little change creates a new context and encourages the chance to break away from the unhealthy bar more easily.

2. replace bad habits

What is easier than to completely get rid of a bad habit? It's simple: replace it with a good one. To stick with the candy bar, you could reach for an apple or banana instead, for example. This method works best if you manage to create a craving for this substitute. This, in turn, works great with a reward. The more concrete and achievable the reward, the better. For example, "If I eat bananas instead of candy bars for a week, I'll treat myself to a nice massage." The trick is to match your desired behavior with a trigger stimulus and reinforce it with a reward. Quite simple really, isn't it?

3. reward yourself

And that brings us to the third and final point: rewards. They motivate and help to break bad habits faster. Make sure to set the rewards in small stages at the beginning. Because if they seem achievable, they are all the more effective. Then, step by step, increase the intervals so that they do not lose their incentive.

Establish good habits

Once you've mastered the first steps, the good habits will become second nature. And at some point, you'll look forward to a delicious piece of fruit after lunch and can't imagine stuffing your face with unhealthy bars ever again. Maybe you'll even manage to convince your colleague to do the same? We wish you lots of fun and success.


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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