The Psychology behind forming Lifelong Habits

A silver lining to a pandemic like Coronavirus?

Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the WHO (World Health Organisation). As per WHO a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. This means every country, every state, and every citizen needs to play their part in checking Coronavirus in its tracks. Some of these can just mean that we practice basic hygiene, don’t gather in big groups and avoid all non-essential travel.

I remember the time when H1N1 in the last decade was declared a pandemic too. I also remember that a lot of people who had never ever used hand sanitizers before that started using it on a regular basis.

There is a lot of panic and the actual risk of a pandemic like this. However, there are other sides to such an outbreak when it comes to personal hygiene. For example:

  1. People tend to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating anything, after handing/touching any public objects (lifts, doorknobs, handles, seats, etc.).
  2. I see almost everyone (including me) carrying sanitizers with them. In fact, many of us are keeping one in the car, one in office, one in the bag, and so on, just keep it within their reach when needed.
  3. There has been a sharp decline in eating food outside or ordering in from unknown places/ food vendors. Instead, people are opting for much healthier food which can increase immunity in the long run.

How is this discussion relevant?

We need to understand how we form habits, good or bad. We, as humans, are always inclined towards the easier path which gives no or little pain. Most of the times in our life, things which are good for us come with a cost; cost in terms of time, regular exercise, eating non-fried food, waking up early, reading regularly, and so on. Someone has aptly said – “No pain, No gain!”

However, there are many well-known proofs that if we form a habit which is good for us, and if we keep at it for a certain amount of time, it will feel natural and then stays with us for a long time.

When does it start to sound and feel natural, like the way we always brush our teeth every morning? Well, there is no set duration. It varies from activity to activity, and from person to person.

In the current example of people all of a sudden having elevated levels of hygiene due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it has something to do with the need for being safe and healthy.

I also argue that if people continue to follow these standards until the time this pandemic passes by, this habit is going to stay for a while. (Sanitiser and soap manufacturers – are you listening?)

Forming good habits which are going to be with us for our life

I’m an avid reader and I never had a problem with reading regularly. Recently I started my stint as a writer. This has been not so easy. I don’t have the habit of writing regularly every day, day after day. What worked for me is to spend at least 15-20 minutes each day to write. Many a times I experienced that when I start writing, I end up writing for 30 minutes or more instead of the stipulated 15-20 minutes.

Have you ever experienced that when you are well-dressed for exercise or jogging, it’s all about getting out of the comfort of your house and you’ll most probably finish the goal for that day?

I also participate in many 10K runs throughout the year. If you ask any runner, they will say, the first few kilometers are the toughest, not for the body but for the mind. Also completing the last few kilometers is always a mind game.

The author of the article at https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/ habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them argues that there are 3 parts to forming habits and this starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop”. First, there’s a cue or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold. Then there’s the routine, which is the behavior itself. The third step is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.

Let’s list down few things which will help you form a habit:

  1. Keep realistic goals that are achievable. Don’t start with walking for 5 km on the first day if that’s your goal. Overstretching and abruptly getting out of your comfort zone may put you off once you experience too much pain and resistance in your body and mind.
  2. Challenge yourself every day to do an incremental positive change. For example, if your goal is to walk every day for 5 km, try to achieve it by the end of 2 weeks by slowing increasing the distance every day.
  3. Positive projections help you push through the activities and tasks involved in achieving your daily goals.
  4. And the most important thing is, be at it, and don’t give up. If you continue it for a few weeks, your body thinks it must be important for survival (the caveman mentality) and you actually start enjoying it.

What will you start today?

Someone sent me a forwarded message on WhatsApp which reads “Never let a good crisis go waste”. It is a very apt statement when it comes to habit-forming. When people are not traveling, people transport is being used to the minimal, cinema halls and malls are at the brink of closures, it’s time to form that habit which you always want to do, be it reading, learning to cook, and just slowing down to appreciate everything around you and enjoy the subtle things in life.

What habit will you form? Will you meet your goal of reading 10/20/30 books in a year? Will you meet your goal of having those 6-pack abs you always wanted to have? Or will you just meet your daily goal of getting the morning fresh air which is going to rejuvenate you?

What do you think? Let us know by adding a comment below and connecting with us using the form below.

Featured Image credits: Adriano Gadini from Pixabay

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Nishant Krishna

Nishant Krishna

Head of Technology and Chief Architect at NumberNagar
Nishant is Co-founder of a startup on anti-counterfeiting technologies “Tech Machinery and More Pvt. Ltd.”, and Head of Technology at “NumberNagar”. He is an entrepreneur, Software Architect, Innovator and Inventor with many granted and pending patents. He loves exploring and putting to use new ways to solve complex problems in the areas of the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning, Security, and UX. Nishant is enthusiastic about public speaking and editing. As an editor, he has edited multiple books, conference papers, and Ph.D. papers. As a writer, he loves to venture into technology as well as non-technology areas on a regular basis. He invests a good part of his time working with non-profit organizations and in mentoring and coaching students and startups. He is working on original research on technology areas like IoT, Security, and Machine Learning, and human psychology areas with a focus on UX and on “increasing productivity by removing the incentives from non-compliance”.

2 Replies to “The Psychology behind forming Lifelong Habits”

  1. Very good write-up. It subtly pushes the reader to move towards forming a habit. I used to run 5k during my morning stride, and then one fine day decided that I need to change it to 6k. There after, whenever I run, I do a minimum of 6k. So, what you said is very true – it is all in the mind. I also agree with your point of dress-up or attire for an activity – especially, when you refer to exercise, or a run or cycling, this assists to build-up a psychology and acts as a catalyst. Thanks a lot for inspiring me.

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