Proverbs say a lot in few words. For example: “Can’t get hurt.”. This sentence touches on many concepts of behavioral psychology at once. Habit or Habit (English: Habit) are behaviors that we repeat often and are no longer even aware of. Don’t look at Twitter for 20 minutes when you wake up, drink coffee right after a meal, read a message at least 5 times before replying, bite your nails when nervous, and insult yourself when you make a mistake. All of them are habits that have formed over time but are now automated. We can divide habits into two categories as Functional (positive) and Dysfunctional (negative). For example, while repetitive sports to stay healthy or lose weight are beneficial, not being able to drink coffee without chocolate or overeating when we are sad is to our detriment. Like all behaviors, negative behaviors are learned during the developmental period and become a habit by being constantly repeated. So how do we make these dysfunctional habits functional? If you are in therapy with a psychologist, your therapist will most likely talk about these methods. To do it yourself, it is important to know these 6 points:
1- Habits don’t have to be goal-oriented.
Often when we try to learn a new behavior, we pair the behavior with an extrinsic reward. There are two types of motivation in psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when a person does not need external stimuli while performing a behavior. For example, let’s say you read a book for pleasure, to learn new things, or to become a reader. This is an internal motivation and no external reward is required. Even in such cases, an external reward can have the opposite effect and alienate us from the behavior (eg: Overjustification Effect). Extrinsic motivation is the pursuit of behavior with a reward. For example, behavior such as reading a book for 30 minutes to play computer games or eating chocolate after completing the necessary tasks is followed by a reward. Rewards are useful if we do not have an intrinsic motivation for the habit we want to acquire. However, when a habit develops over time, the “target” can give way to the reward created by the action itself. For example, while reading a book for 30 minutes to play computer games, you may like to read and do this behavior without reward, or when you go for a walk to lose weight, being in the fresh air and meeting people can make this habit sufficient for you. As a result, the habit can continue even if the goal changes. I have also experienced this in many of my clients whose feelings, thoughts and behaviors are recorded. Over time, many of my clients have made it a standard behavior and continued, as self-monitoring has produced interesting and unexpected feelings and thoughts.
2- Don’t be vague Be specific
“I will walk for 1 hour a day”, “I will study for 2 hours”, “I will finish my desk work”. Phrases that are always said and almost never followed. Because they’re so vague. Which 1 hour? When? Before or after the meal? Where? With whom? With what clothes? How? Countless pitfalls await us in such a target where these and more questions remain unanswered. Habit forming is the repetition of the same behavior at similar times. For example, if you wake up at 7:30 every morning to go to work, your body will get used to this time over time. But let’s say your job starts at 11 one day, one day 14, and sometimes at 16. Can your body form a habit when you go to bed and wake up at a different time each day? Of course no. So the goal should be specific. Instead of “I will walk for 1 hour a day”, “I will walk for 1 hour in the park below between 19:00 and 20:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday”. If we wish, we can specify clothes, movements and many other variables specifically, but for now, such a target is enough. This target has a certain perception of time and space. For example, if we said after dinner, would it still happen? No. Because meal times often vary. What I eat at 18 one day, I can eat at 19 or 20 another day. In this case, my body will have to follow an ambiguous schedule rather than a fixed goal, and it will fail. So don’t be vague, be specific.
3- No Habit can be gained without repetition
Perhaps the most important thing when learning a new behavior is repetition. If we do something only when we feel like it, it is impossible for us to form a habit. Because the only thing that reveals this behavior is our will, and the will is a very easy structure to break. That’s why we can think of habit forming as a chain. In order for a chain to function, each part of it must be connected to each other. Similarly, in order to acquire a habit, we must do this behavior at any time we determine. For example, if you want to read a book for at least 15 minutes every day, you should read for 15 minutes every day. But life is unpredictable, and setting ourselves unbending rules leads us to criticism, blame, and perfectionism. So sometimes we need to loosen these rules, of course. For example, if we are really tired that day or if we don’t want to, we can read for 2 minutes instead of 15 minutes. Of course, reading a book for these 2 minutes does not make sense on its own, but at least we will not break the chain of habits. In this way, it means that we have taken an important step in gaining discipline.
4- Design your environment according to your Habit
If you want to reduce your sugar consumption, you should not keep chocolate and sugary foods in your home. Even if you are going to keep them, they should be in very small amounts and should not cause an eating crisis that will make you regret it. If you want to consume more fruit, you should always have fruit in your home. If a cupboard in the kitchen is full of junk food, you can suppress your urge to eat to a certain extent by using only your will. However, it is inevitable that we will see the familiar scene of eating junk food at the first fire of your will. That is why we must arrange our environment according to the habit we want, in order to put the least possible burden on our will. If you want to consume more fruits, you should put them in visible places. Because such triggers will facilitate the emergence of the behavior. If you want to do sports every day, you should keep your sports clothes in a prominent place. If you want to read a book, your book should be right next to you, not on the dusty shelves of the bookshelf. If you want to drink water, you should put reminders on your phone and have easily accessible bottles around you. Positive habits cannot be gained in negative environments.
5- Dysfunctional Habits are Hard to Break
Habits are not formed in a day, but once they are formed, it is difficult to break them. Because now the habit has become automatic. It repeats itself automatically without much effort. Let’s say you’re watching YouTube videos on the toilet. If this has become a habit now, as soon as you go to the toilet without realizing it, you open YouTube and start looking for videos. You don’t even realize you’re doing it. Until you leave your phone in the room. Now the toilet turns into a dreadfully boring prison. Out of boredom, you start reading the contents of the bottles or focusing on the shapes on the tiles. Normally, in a very, very short part of your time, you finish your work and run away from the bathroom because you are bored. The next time you visit the toilet, the phone is firmly in your hand. Because you don’t want to re-live the negative experience you just had. Therefore, once habits are formed, they are difficult behaviors to break or change. In this process, it is important to focus on small victories without burdening yourself and keeping criticism to a minimum. Some studies have determined that it takes between 18 and 250 days for a new habit to form. Of course, the person, environment and habit can increase or decrease the time here, but a new habit does not occur suddenly.
6- Reward is important in habit formation, but not always
As we gain a new habit, we expect to be rewarded like every living thing in nature. For example, playing computer for 1 hour after playing sports or buying a new outfit can be effective rewards. However, if the reward starts to repeat the behavior all the time, it will lose its effect over time. Therefore, while trying to form a habit, rewards may follow the behavior immediately, but it is positive to decrease in frequency over time. This slows down the mundaneness of the reward. Ultimately, when the habit is now automatic, the reward can leave the environment. The most positive method is for the reward to be replaced by a more personalized ideal over time. For example, my goal should evolve from reading a book for 1 hour a day to being a person who reads books. In this way, I can continue this behavior just because I am such a person, or “I will walk for 1 hour a day” over time, “A person who likes to do sports.” can evolve to be. In this way, I start to do these behaviors with an internal motivation instead of an external reward.