This content has been produced by DeltaV Partners.

Habits are routine behaviours done on a regular basis. The word habit often has negative connotations associated with it, but habits are integral to our ability to function. Habits also evolved as a mechanism to allow us to multitask.

Imagine if you had to think through every little action. Just eating a meal would become tedious and exhausting. You would have to make a conscious effort to hold your knife and fork, cut your food, place it into your mouth, chew… you get the picture.

Why is understanding habits important?

We all have habits. Some good, some unhelpful and some we don’t even know about. We’ll be looking at the role habits play in our lives and if it’s possible to influence them and actually harness them to make you more resilient and productive.

Whether you like it or not, habits rule your behaviour. From the way in which you brush your teeth in the morning, to the way you bite your nails when you’re nervous, habits can be found in every part of your life.

Before you start learning these new habits, it is important to understand a little more about habits themselves.

How long does it take to create a habit?

The time it takes to establish a new habit depends on the person, the circumstance and what type of habit you are trying to create. Introducing a simple habit, such as starting your day with a glass of water, can take around 21 days before it becomes a part of your life.

However, it can take up to 60 days before a complex new behaviour, such as going for a walk becomes an established habit.

Unhelpful habits

Most unhelpful habits are created as a means of dealing with stress or boredom. This can be something like biting your nails, drinking alcohol or spending too much time on social media (unless your job is focused on social media).

Because habits often provide some sort of benefit to your life, it can be difficult to simply stop them. This is why someone telling you to just stop, isn’t very useful.

Consider this…

Our brains are overrun by stimuli engineered to make us crave and consume stimuli that hijack the reward-based learning system in our brains originally designed for survival. Put simply, reward-based learning involves a trigger (for example, chocolate cake), followed by a behaviour (eating cake) and a reward (sugar rush). We want to do more of the things that feel good and less of the things that feel bad.

These three components (trigger, behaviour and reward) show up every time we drink alcohol, eat a cake, or check Facebook. Each time we reach out for something to soothe ourselves, we reinforce the learning, to the point where it becomes automatic. 

Take a moment to think about some of your ‘automatic behaviours’. This is how habits are formed and this is why those habits become embedded in our routines. Our biggest challenge is the brain networks associated with self-control (such as the prefrontal cortex) are the first to go ‘offline’ when faced with triggers such as stress, which in turn leads to our immediate response, which could be the unhelpful habit you’re trying to switch.

The future of your habits

A great place to start is by recognising your good habits; what they are, how they were created and when you do them, also how they make you feel.

Start by writing some of your healthy habits down. It’s a helpful way of anchoring positive behaviours.

Here are some examples:

  • You eat seven to ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • You exercise three times per week
  • You rise early in the morning to allow yourself time to relax.

When addressing unhelpful habits, the key is to recognise them, prepare for them, remove any triggers, and have a replacement good habit ready to go that provides a similar benefit. For example, if you’re in the habit of reaching for a biscuit when you’re feeling sluggish towards the end of the day, remove the biscuits from the room and perhaps replace them with fruit.

If you’re in the habit of scrolling through social media on your phone when you’re stressed or bored, instead, try to think of something you can replace it with, perhaps practising some deep breathing exercises.

Over the next seven days (as a start), we’d like you to be more mindful of your habits - you’ve probably got a few that you don’t even know about.

Write down three habits that are disrupting your day and productivity and try to think of ways to reduce and eliminate them by:

  • Simply stopping
  • Replacing them with something else
  • Removing the trigger.

Habit forming tips

1. Keep it simple. There is a great deal of change, challenge and uncertainty at the moment so ensure you make your new habit simple enough so that you achieve it.

2. Community. It might be a virtual community but still build it. Support, guidance and motivation from others is essential when trying to form a new habit.

3. Be positive. Sometimes this is easier said than done but it is essential. You have the chance to look at your current status as negative or positive. Consider the opportunities available now you’re working from home, such as a morning workout which would have normally been commuting time.

4. Eliminate choices. In many cases, we choose the easy option if it’s there. An example of this would be food. Tired or stressed, do you make the choice to prepare a whole and healthy meal or reach for the ready meal? By removing temptation, you’ll support your new good habit.