3 Basic Attributes of Habits

As a coach, the aim is to help my client to successfully implement change in order for him/her to achieve goals that are set out. The challenge of successfully navigating through change will boil down to how successful each are in implementing changes until it becomes a habit. Habits either need to be created, changed or broken.

What is a habit? According to the dictionary, a habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice that is hard to give up. More often than not, when we speak of habits, it is in the negative perspective. Let’s start by understanding the basic attributes of a habit. There are 3 basic attributes of a habit:

  1. Automatic: As set of actions that are automatic for us to perform. For example, brushing your teeth is a habit.       Most of us don’t think or concentrate on the series of actions that brushing of teeth consist it. We just pick up the toothbrush, squeeze some toothpaste and off we go. Some of us can even multitask during that process and read our emails.
  2. Process specific: There is a set of processes that each action will take. For example, driving your car. You will open the door, get in, wear your seat belt, start the engine, look at the rear view mirror and side mirror and so on.       There is a process that takes place in a very specific manner. If any of the steps is missed out or out of order, it will create an unsettle feeling.
  3. Hard to change or break: You will know when a behaviour is a habit, when it is hard to give it up or break it. For example, to change from a sedentary to an active lifestyle is hard. To create a new set of actions or behaviour to fit in 5 minutes of exercise is hard. It is hard to break the cycle of inactivity.

Our brains are designed to be efficient or lazy depending on which perspective you prefer. It wants to be able to perform at the most efficient level which means using as little energy as possible. In order for the brain to do so, it recognises and repeats patterns until it becomes efficient. At its most optimal, it is in an automatic mode.

Think about the time you had to learn a new skill or just watch a child learn how to eat using fork and spoon. There are 5 key characteristics that goes into learning something new:

  • Focus: you need to focus on every action that you take. Take the child learning how to eat with a fork. Picking up the fork, coordinating between your hand, the fork and stabbing at a piece of meat and after all that effort to coordinate the fork into your mouth without hitting your face.
  • Mistakes: the number of mistakes that you will make at the start of the process will be very high. For a child learning to use the fork, the mess on both the child and the surrounding environment is massive.
  • Repeat: the process has to be repeated time and time again until the skill is learned.  With each repetition, skills are improved which leads to less effort over time until you reach the point of auto-pilot or habit.
  • Perseverance: there must be perseverance to keep on trying. Just imagine if a child gives up learning how to eat using a fork, what would that be like as an adult.
  • Reward: there is always a reward at the end of the struggle. For the child, it is eating by himself without a mess and a pleasant dining experience for the parents.

Ask yourself:

  • What goals do I have that I want to accomplish?
  • What behaviour do I want to change in order to achieve new goals?
  • What structure do I need to put in place to help me change?
  • What triggers do I need to address?
  • What “bad” habits do I want to break?

The 3 basic attributes of habits will help you to identify the habits that needs to change or be modified. The 5 characteristics of learning new skills or behaviour will help you plan out how to go about changing. This challenge will require our brains to work and work hard at the start. Over time and repetition, each of us can learn new skills and develop new habits.

The next series of articles will aim to help you work through elements that you can put in place to help you journey through changing habits.







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