A habit, as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary, is a settled tendency or usual manner of behaviour of a person. Collins gives us an easier version – a habit is simply something that a person does often or regularly. We all have habits, good and bad. I’m not sure, though, how many of us think about the power of habit. Our lives are essentially the sum total of our habits. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for as much as 40% of our behaviours on a given day. Just think of it – 40% of your daily actions, being decided not really by you, but by your habits. Habits that you developed over time and probably don’t even have to think about now. That is the power of habit.
What do habits have to do with wellness? A lot, really. If a person is physically unfit for his or her age, it could be a result of habits. Habits like smoking, or eating too much junk food, or not working out. Our habits influence the kind of nutrition we get, the amount of we exercise, the quality and amount of sleep we get, and so on. Our habits also influence our emotional state. If I have a habit of worrying over small things or constantly checking my phone, I will not be able to have a peaceful state of mind. Looking at it in this light, any effort to improve physical or emotional health would involve dealing with existing habits.
I recently chanced upon a book called “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg. He talks about habits, why they exist, and how they can be transformed. The more I read, the more I understood things I didn’t understand before. Duhigg explains that habits once formed can be so strong, that our brains will cling to them even in the face of common sense telling us not to. However, the power of habit can be broken if we try. The key thing to remember is – a habit cannot be simply removed, it has to be replaced. Keep the same cue and reward, but replace the routine.
For some time now I’d been struggling with my caffeine habit. I was trying to reduce my consumption from the usual 4-5 cups a day of tea/coffee to the healthier limit of one or two cups a day. But as is the power of habit, I was struggling with cravings. After reading the explanation in the book, I tried replacing the tea/coffee with other healthier routines – lemon water, buttermilk, and so on. Gradually I even managed to substitute tea with a short walk around the office! Today, I am successfully down to one or two cups of tea a day. This is my example, but I think the same process of changing the routine between the cue and the reward could work for any habit that one wanted to overcome.
The assumption here is, of course, that one has habits that one wants to get rid of. Most of us do have some habit or the other that has a negative impact on our health. Something that we wish we could overcome, if only it were not so difficult. If you fall into this group too, you might want to read this book and try some experiments of your own! It’s definitely worth the effort if it can improve your quality of life. After all, shouldn’t we be the owners of our habits instead of the other way round?
If this interests you, you might like to also read what James Clear has to say: