If it’s true what they say that we are what we repeatedly do, then our habits make up a huge part of who we are as people. That may either be comforting – or terrifying – news. Whatever your reaction to that idea, habits are an important part our daily lives. So what types of habits do we all have?
First off, what are habits?
Habits are defined as the things you repeatedly do and the small actions you take regularly.
If you’ve ever watched The Big Bang Theory, you’ve seen Sheldon knock three times on Penny’s door and then say her name aloud. While “knock, knock, knock, Penny” may make us laugh, it’s a pattern he repeats every time he goes over to her apartment. It’s a habit that seems to annoy Penny but he probably doesn’t even realize that he does it or what effect it has on her (not that Sheldon would be self-aware enough to care, but you get the idea).
We’re much like Sheldon in this respect. We all have habits that we do over and over again. They may be positive or negative, but we’ve done them so often that we don’t even think about them any more. They’re simply part of our behavioral repertoire.
But your habits play a big part in how your day – and life – goes. Wouldn’t it make sense to try to adopt as many good habits as possible and try to eliminate the bad ones?
It makes sense to me, but here’s the thing with habits, they’ve become totally automatic on our part. Our habits can be driven by instinct, pleasure, avoidance of pain, goals, or by love.
Whatever your habits, if you want to make a change, you’re likely motivated by some purpose. You then keep going because of motivation to make changes. Therefore it makes sense to know what influences your habits and how important they are to you. This will help when you set about to develop good (or at least better) habits.
Let’s talk about the four types of habits
Instigating habits – Your Measured Actions
The first type of habits are instigating habits. These are the actions that you do because you know why you need them. For example, doing things that contribute to good health are instigating habits. Choosing a piece of fruit instead of junk food or choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator or examples of habits that you do because you know they help you maintain good health. In other words, you make a conscious choice to engage in these behaviors.
Instigating habits are always positive and doing them always helps you in some way.
Regimental habits – What You Always Do
Regimental habits are similar to instigating habits, but these are the habits you’ve been doing so long that you just do them because you always have. In other words, they’re automatic and you really don’t think about whether they’re good for you or not. You just do them literally out of habit.
The problem with regimental habits is that they’re so automatic we don’t even think about them. This might prevent us from doing something that would be better for us and it may keep us continuing to engage in negative behaviors simply because we don’t take the time to stop and think about them. These habits may prove hard to change.
Avoiding habits – What You Try to Move Away
Avoiding habits are the ones that we often wish we didn’t have. These include things like smoking, drinking alcohol or too much caffeine, procrastinating, or gossiping. They’re generally things we know we shouldn’t do, but are having a hard time not doing and are nearly always negative.
Instead, what we need to do is to reframe these habits so that we can move them to instigating habits. We have to become aware of the negative effects these habits have on us so that we can muster the motivation to replace them with habits that will have a positive impact instead.
Unconscious habits – What You Do Without Realizing
Unconscious habits are the things that we all do without even realizing we’re doing them. There’s a good chance these are negative behaviors and we’re not always in control of them.
For example, when I was young I had a terrible habit of chewing on my nails. They looked awful and I chewed them to the point where they’d bleed. My grandmother worried about this habit I had and decided to help me break it…so she offered me $5 for each fingernail that I quit biting and let the nail grow out.
I could do the math and the prospect of getting $50 if I’d stop biting my nails was too much for me to pass up! It took a little bit of doing, but I stopped biting my nails. To this day I take pains to keep my nails look good and I seldom meet a nail polish that I don’t like.
Most of us have habits like this though. And without realizing it, we may be sending negative messages about ourselves to others. Whether it’s an annoying speech habit (like saying “ummm” every other word) or something else, becoming aware of, and then breaking, these habits can help us keep from missing opportunities or alienating other people.
All of us have habits that fall under these four categories. Examining our habits can help us recognize the habits we need to change and those we want to keep. Ideally, we’d all have more instigating habits since they’re the positive ones that are good for us.
Changing our habits requires work on our part, and may require that we have someone who can help us. The unconscious habits may require that someone else point them out to us since we generally don’t realize we’re doing them.
Ultimately, working to develop good habits helps in all areas of our lives. Embracing good habits will have a positive impact, and breaking (or replacing) our bad ones can have a positive impact on others around us as well.
Understanding the type and purpose of our habits can help us find the motivation we need to continue – or discontinue – as needed until they become second nature.