What did you do when you woke up this morning? Got out of bed, put clothes on, made breakfast and ate it, maybe? Did you brush your teeth before or after eating? Do you remember brewing your coffee? How did you get to work? If you drove your car, do you remember actively choosing which route to take? Do you remember thinking about how to open the car door or that you need to look in the side mirrors before crossing a lane?
If you bicycled, did you ever had to stop and think about how to pedal, keep the balance and steer and maybe wave good-morning to the neighbor?
You probably remember the events that fell out of the normal routine, like being out of coffee, a kid unexpectedly running in front of your car or a flat tire on your bicycle.
When you think about it your day is full of automated actions, things you do every day without needing to put much thought into it. Your habits.
Everyone has them – habits. They are small automated programs in your brain, designed to make it more effective and helping it sort between the million pieces of information you are confronted with daily. By automating some parts in your life you can free your mind for other more complicated thought processes, like making decisions on how to handle the angry customer in front of you if you are working at a store, or the best way of caring for a wound if you are a nurse in the ED. And even then you will rely partly on your habits, developed from earlier experiences.
A habit started out as a conscious decision, having a cup of coffee at Starbucks on your way to work for example. Then through repetition it developed to an unconscious process. You don’t have to think about going to Starbucks, you just stop by on your way to work. You have probably found your self driving to Starbucks on a weekend when you didn’t pay attention to where you were going.
Eating dinner while watching TV or going for a work out after work are also habits, that once were fully aware decisions that have become automated through repetition.
This is how your brain works, how it creates structure and filtrates in the massive input it is faced with every day.
Habits are not exclusive to individuals. Groups of various sizes have them, even companies struggle with them. The culture on a working place is made up of sets of habits. Do you report problems to your superior or not? Is it okay to talk to your boss directly or do you have to go through your manager? Do you chat with your colleagues at lunch? Do you go to a restaurant and eat together or do you all bring food packages? Habits.
Companies that have realized this try to have an atmosphere that will promote good habits, like the willingness to report problems so they can be solved as soon as possible, that will spread to new coworkers, even without needing to specifically attend to it. Newcomers will soon fall into whatever is the habits of that work place, just by copying their seniors.
You obviously need habits to survive your daily life without overloading your brain with decision-making processes. But not all of your habits are ones you want. That TV-dinner will make you stay in front of the series all night instead of going for a jog, or maybe keep you from interacting with your family. Eating lunch with your colleagues every day might keep you from eating the food you actually would like and that you know would keep you healthy.
Or maybe your stuck with more detrimental habits, like smoking, drinking, gambling or drug usage? Things you do that you know aren’t good for you, but you can’t stop your self from doing it?
Habits can be changed, just because they are patterns that are repeated. Understanding what habits are and how they work their magic in your life is the first step to changing them. Habits have their own anatomy.