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The Importance of Habits

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” – F. M. Alexander

This is true in marriage, in parenting, in healthcare, in busines—all of life. Habits are so important---more than we likely realize. Our brains cling to habits to the exclusion of even common sense. In the course of a single day at least 40% of the things we do are not actual decisions, they are habits. These habits grow stronger and stronger over time. They actually create neurological cravings that work through a habit loop. There’s a trigger that leads to a routine that releases pleasure chemicals in the brain that reward us. This habit loop works over and over and eventually becomes automatic. We’d better make sure they are the right ones. And here’s what’s alarming: When a habit has developed, the brain quits fully participating in decision-making.

Clearly, habits are who you are. Your routines become such a considerable part of your life that eventually they define you. But you can change your habits. The new ones will happen the same as the first—consistent repetition. Good habits allow you to reach your goals. The first step to reaching any goal is first establishing a daily habit. If you want to find a new job, you have to get into the habit of looking for work every day. These habits will set the foundation for your life. Your habits will make you a joyful person if those are the habits you choose. You can choose the kind of life you will live. You will have days when you don’t feel like it, but your habits will get you through because they will replace motivation.

Habits can be really great because they free up energy that can be focused on other tasks. But unless you intentionally fight a bad habit and replace it with new routines, the behavior will unfold over and over every time there is a trigger. So, the good news is that habits are not an automatic destiny. All habits can be changed or replaced, but it’s not easy because a habit never truly disappears—it is simply replaced by new habits.

Keystone habits deserve our full attention. A keystone habit is called that because like a central stone in an arch that locks the entire arch together, a keystone habit is one that holds life together, for good or for bad. Our habits determine the way we live our lives. If you study people who are consistently winning, and people who are consistently failing, you will find in every instance there is a habit that is responsible. Those are the keystone habits. It only makes sense to have good ones.

How can you develop a great keystone habit?

Many of our habits get entrenched without us even noticing. We just do something over and over and it becomes part of who we are. But we can absolutely choose to create the right habits intentionally.

Do you have a start on a habit that is doing you good right now? You are getting some small, good results? It can be as simple as a 30-minute walk daily, a morning meditation time. Whatever it is, identify it, and then consciously and consistently repeat it. That will strengthen the habit and its positive impact on your life.

How do you know which are keystone habits? Think carefully about yourself. What is the cause or reason for your successes, whether they are big or small? That’s a keystone habit. You can reorganize your routines on purpose and change certain behaviors to incorporate positive routines into your daily activities. After a couple of months, you will find it is so natural that you will be succeeding in it, easily and even unconsciously.

Isn’t it odd how, even when habits are detrimental to us and even wreak havoc in our lives, we find it so difficult to break away from them? They are planted deep within us and it will take a great deal of effort to uproot them. It’s like a bad relationship—you know you need to end the relationship that is making you live in misery. But it has a hold on every aspect of your life, so you just let it keep happening. But if you are going to have a happy and productive life, you eventually have to decide to handle it.

So, it’s not just about developing good habits, it is about getting away from your bad habits too. These are the reasons you have failed or are unhappy; you must be honest with yourself. Identify the habit. Do you always run late? Do you drink too much? Do you overspend? Get into that honestly and get serious about changing it.

When you have identified the habit that has to go, the experts tell us that cold turkey is not the best way to do it. Bad habits make you feel rewarded too. When you stop and feel deprived, you’ll start craving the reward you used to get, and it becomes a magnet to you again. The best thing is to replace the bad habit with a good one that offers the same kind of comfort and reward. The replacement should be something you enjoy, not something you force. It will not effectively replace the bad habit if it doesn’t make you feel happy, excited, relaxed, or comforted.

I’m pretty sure we’re all alike—we don’t like the word “no.” Everything that is forbidden immediately becomes so attractive. Instead of just stopping a bad thing, do something else instead. At first, your brain will keep leading you back to the bad habit. You must be firm and consistent, and keep doing what you want to enforce. You may need to try a new reward, but stay with it. Be firm with yourself. Leaving habits behind takes a lot of work. Keep focused on the positive outcome to keep yourself motivated. Find things that will make the bad habit painful, and it will stop being rewarding and your brain will cooperate with you.

Reward yourself; congratulate yourself for doing something good for yourself. Your habits are taking you to a better place.

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