What Is a Habit and How Is It Formed?

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There are numerous theories with many backgrounds of expertise which are all good.

Today you will learn the anatomy and physiology of what a habit is and how it works. You see, I used my methodologies every day on myself and with my clients, and together we test, measure and tweak our habits along the way.

Habit is difficult to change but not impossible.

When you understand and choose to do actions in a specific way you will have power and control over the mechanisms behind the habit. Put your thinking caps on and take your time to absorb this material because it’s not a read through.

Your attention, focus, and energy is needed to fully understand because UNDERSTANDING is the end result in everything we do.

So, how is a habit defined?

Well, according to Dictionary.com habit has several:

  • an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary:
    Example: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.
  • customary practice or use:
    Example: Daily bathing is an American habit.
  • a particular practice, custom, or usage:
    Example: the habit of shaking hands.
  • a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality:
    Example: She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.

Origin of habit
1175–1225; Middle English < Latin habitus state, style, practice, equivalent to habi– (variant stem of habēre to have) + –tus verbal noun suffix; replacing Middle English abit < Old French

As you can see from the definitions there is more than one meaning. So which one refers to what we are going to use? “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” The key word is ALMOST!

In other words just because you have a set way of doing something doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Are habits difficult to change absolutely! Is it impossible no way!

Think about it for a minute and answer this question: “Are you the same person you were a year ago?” Yes, and No; some things changed and some things stayed the same.

Do you know what changed? Can you list 1-3 things that changed in your life yesterday, week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months or 1 year ago? I bet you will be able to count much more than 3.

The key is very subtle changes beyond your awareness are being manipulated every second of every minute. Mind boggling right? You bet! This is the power of the subconscious it turns new things from mechanical to automatic. Unlocking the door to these subtleties and automatic actions will help you change over time.

The anatomy of a habit is its parts:

  1. Thought
  2. Feeling
  3. Actions
  4. Result
  5. Feedback
  6. Frequency
  7. Time
  8. Perceptics
  9. Condition

Physiology of a habit is how the parts function individually and together:

  1. Thought: A thought is selected
  2. Feeling: A feeling is selected
  3. Actions: Physical movements are created
  4. Result: The outcome is created
  5. Feedback: I liked or didn’t like my outcome
  6. Frequency: How many times you repeated the actions
  7. Time: How long you do the actions when they occur and how old they are
  8. Perceptics: Are individual pieces of data (Letter in a word, word, eye color, nose, eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, bottom lip, top lip, chin, cheekbones, eyelashes, eyelids, chin, freckles etc.)
  9. Condition: When it happened, Where it happened, Why it happened, What happened, Who was there when it happened and How it happened

So how does this all fit together and form a habit?

So you have a thought; “I like chocolate ice cream” and you’re happy (Emotion) about it.

Then from thought and feeling, you create physical movements and actions. You go to the freezer in the kitchen at 2 am and grab the ice cream. Then grab a bowl and spoon scoop it into the bowl and eat it…YUM!

What the heck, are physical movements aren’t they the same as actions? Yes and No. The difference is that physical movements make up the complete action. Let’s look at brushing your teeth:

  1. You use your right hand to pick up the toothpaste
  2. You use your left index finger and thumb to unscrew the cap
  3. Then set the cap down on the counter
  4. With your left hand, you grab the tube of toothpaste from the right hand
  5. With your right hand, you grab the toothbrush from the counter
  6. With left hand, you squeeze the tube to push paste out onto to toothbrush
  7. You open your mouth
  8. You raise your right hand to your mouth and insert the toothbrush
  9. Using the right hand and right arm you move the toothbrush back and forth and up and down in your mouth
  10. You move your right hand and arm down to remove toothbrush from the mouth
  11. With mouth open, you close your lips a bit to spit out toothpaste
  12. Using right hand put toothbrush on the counter
  13. Turn on water using your left hand and fingers
  14. Open mouth
  15. Then using right hand and with fingers tight together and cupped
  16. Lower cupped hand to fill with water
  17. Raise right cupped hand to mouth and insert water
  18. Turn off water using your left hand
  19. Then you puff your right and left cheeks swishing the water around in your mouth
  20. Then you open your mouth
  21. Spit out water and toothpaste
  22. Using right hand you grab a towel and wipe your mouth

As you can see there are 22 physical movement steps just brushing your teeth. The good news there’s probably a few more I didn’t list!

Everything we do require physical steps that’s why we have 650 muscles in our body so we can create things physically. So what about action or actions? Action and actions are made of physical movements.

An action is an individual set of physical movements. For example, one set of physical movements equals one action and multiple actions linked together create actions.

Group of physical movements

The reason changing is difficult because we tend to focus on the result and what we want to have. The other reason is we don’t understand that when we try to change a habit we are trying to change all the physical movements at the same time as well… good luck with that!

Some habits have thousands even millions of physical movements depending on how old the habit is.

All is not lost! Stay tuned to see how you can learn how to change a habit a little bit at a time by manipulating the physical movements, thinking, and feeling.

 

References:

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. (2011). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/habit

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. (2011). An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: Example: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street. Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/habit

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. (2011). Customary practice or use For Example: Daily bathing is an American habit.a particular practice, custom, or usage: Example: the habit of shaking hands. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/habit

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. (2011). A dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality: Example: She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/habit

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. (2011). Origin of habit:1175–1225; Middle English < Latin habitus state, style, practice, equivalent to habi- (variant stem of habēre to have) + -tus verbal noun suffix; replacing Middle English abit < Old French

About the Author

Website: Wheel Potential

As a behavior specialist-life coach Giuseppe has helped over 5,000 people over last 30 years with career change, health and wellness, relationships, New Years resolution, habit change, anxiety, and stress relief. He is the inventor of Wheel Potential Self-Help tool designed to help a person apply self-feedback, acknowledgment, and validation.

As a master personal trainer, he is the author of Mind, Body and Inner-self and Secrets of a Trim Mind.