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The Psychology of a Habit and How You Can Change Them

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Humans have an inability to change; this is an argument that has been discussed for centuries and it is largely because of our tendency to be creatures of habit. Think for a moment your daily routine, if you are like 98% of human beings, your morning habits are relatively the same without any true variations from year to year. The other two percent are the very successful minded people that change their habits constantly to maximize their success in life.

The reason that humans stick to their bad habits for so long is because of many reasons; comfortability, fear of failure and the strength of a habit over time. Research shows that the longer the habit has been in effect, the harder it is to change. However, my goal is to articulate that human’s have the ability to change and become adaptable to any and all change simply by replacing an old thought habits with new and better ones.

Moreover, my goal is to persuade that humans don’t actually have an inability to change but rather they are masters of change because they can control their habits.

Understanding habits and How they’re formed 

Before one can change a habit, they must first know what they are, and how they are formed. A habit by definitions is, “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance” (Merriam-Webster), moreover, a habit is formed simply by repetition.

Anything that you think and do over and over again becomes a habit and according to the University College London, it takes on average 66 days for a new habit to form. On paper this seems quite feasible, however, it is easier said than done because of our human nature to be comfortable. The human mind for over 500 plus years has repetitively been programed to think in black and white, meaning that we are taught to believe things are what they are instead of believing that they have the ability to adapt and change.

Because of this human bias, making new habits stick becomes challenging because the battle has to be won in the mind before it can be manifested to reality. Being aware of this human cognitive bias is crucial for creating the willpower necessary to change any habit you want; humans are not bounded to anything, yet because of thinking habits and our interpretation of them it often feels like we are.

“H is for Habit, winners make a habit of doing the things losers don’t want to do.” – Lucas Remmerswaal

Habits Are Consciously Started, And Subconsciously Finished 

The other conflict that gets in the way of creating new and better habits is the inability to consciously notices habits. Majority of people’s core beliefs and ideologies of the self were developed at a young age, before even having the ability to subjectively pick and choose what they wanted to believe, and also how to properly interpret the situation that occurred.

This is where memory plays an interesting role, our memory is often distorted based on the current mindset we have, meaning an event that once had no significance when it occurred, in a new context or mindset can have a purpose.

Thought habits that developed in adolescence, unless replaced with a better habit, probably still have an unconscious impact. How one can go about changing their thought process is by simply auto suggesting a thought of desire and training it like a habit, consciously sending positive thoughts to the subconscious mind.

An autosuggestion is a conscious thought sent to the unconscious mind. Because thoughts are impulses and have a vibration of frequency, doing this over and over again can create a new habit of thinking; the same way a habit is formed on a surface level it can also be formed on a chemical level as well. Knowing this is fundamental in fighting through the uncomfortable part of change.

Habits Are Not Changed, Only Replaced 

Additionally, in order to adapt to change quickly it is immensely important to know that old habits do not disappear, however, they are instead replaced by better ones. Habits cannot be easily replaced; the body and mind naturally know this and will at first resist.

It is believed that a lot of humans bad habits are caused by stress and boredom and these two elements directly affect the body and mind and its resistance to new habits. Because of this natural resistance, it has been assumed by the 98% of people that think that change doesn’t last leading them to resist it at all costs.

Giving these points, it is easy to see the challenges of replacing old habits and the reluctance of people to resist change, however, it is also clear that training new habits requires a time-tested method for adapting and creating all change. Human’s don’t have an inability to change and fascinatingly enough when aware of this, humans have a tendency to embrace change because they understand the process of creating change.

“The Habits that took years to build, do not take a day to change.” – Susan Powter

Change is a matter of patience, willpower and consistency practiced consciously for roughly 66 days, long enough for a habit itself to take over involuntary. This is important for humans to understand because the only difference between them and the person they are inspired to be are the habits they need to change.

What tips would you give someone to help them change a habit? Please leave your thoughts below!

Kyle Colley is a Junior Political Science major from Denver, Colorado who attends Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a freelance writer with the passion of inspiring people to manifest their passions and become multicultural. In 2016, Kyle became a co-founder of Read More Co. a forward-thinking company that uses fashion and books to promote the importance of reading. Read More Co. believes that reading intentionally with a goal in mind will lead its followers to success and happiness in any endeavor in their lives. You can find him on Facebook (Kyle Colley) or on Instagram.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Molls

    Mar 14, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Fantastic article on habits – it takes courage to make the first step towards change but when you do, and keep up with it, its all worth it. 🙂

  2. Joel

    Feb 3, 2017 at 2:51 am

    Kyle,

    As you mentioned, habits are not easily changed. In fact, according to Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) there is only a single portion of the habit cycle that can be changed.

    The parts of the cycle, or loop as he refers to it as are, the Cue, Routine, and Reward.

    You cannot change the Cue (what you see, hear, smell, taste, etc) or the reward (the feeling that you get when you finish the habit) but you can change the routine. As an example, if you’re like me and you crave coffee only when you pass a Starbucks (the cue), instead of going in for a coffee, take a sip of water that has been brought with you (routine), and the reward will be the same (fulfillment/thirst quench).

    While I personally think that there is more to habits than his basic principle, for the most part, it is a great beginning point.

    Loved the article as habits are one of my fascinations.

    Joel

    • Kyle Colley

      Feb 13, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks, Joel, and same I enjoy learning and studying habits. I know the book you are referring to and I enjoyed it. I think the best habit research I have enjoyed is Napoleon Hill’s laws of cosmic Habit Force. He talks about hypnotic rhythms (the loops) and all that so it’s really informative.

  3. Gbeminiyi

    Jan 28, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    What a hard thing to change. Well, I think it’s all about mindset, most had already accepted that they can’t do better than what they are right now and no matter what they do, the result is always gonna be the same. So I will say, change your mindset change your habits.

    thanks so much for this Kyle, thumbs up!

  4. Kyle Colley

    Jan 3, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Thank you, Ewen! Glad I could be another catalyst for people’s successes!

  5. Ricardo Mirville

    Jan 2, 2017 at 2:12 am

    Great article Kyle..
    This post is very important because habits are what make futures.
    And programming the subconscious mind is the first step into doing so!

    #RepititionIsKey!

    • Kyle Colley

      Jan 3, 2017 at 6:39 am

      Thank you, Ricardo! And you are absolutely right! Humans are hard-wired to be negatived minded, however, if you train the subconscious mind you will begin to see the positive in every setback.

  6. Jaskaran Sanghara

    Dec 27, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Great article! I find habits a very challenging thing to change, I mean to change my mindset to what it was 5 years ago was a real challenge, I’m glad I read this article as it reconfirmed my beliefs

    • Kyle Colley

      Jan 3, 2017 at 6:43 am

      Thank you, Jaskaran. You definitely aren’t the only one who finds habits hard to change! (Myself included) however, just knowing that habits are broken by willpower and subconscious programming is groundbreaking for most people that are unaware of this stuff. Glad I could reconnect some beliefs for you!

  7. Ewen Munro

    Dec 26, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    Great summary, Kyle! Really got to the heart of so many people’s dilemmas. Awesome stuff! 😉 #keepgrowing #keepcreating

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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