What Are Habits and Are Habits Good for Us?

Habits are a very essential part of our life. In fact we couldn’t function effectively or properly without them. The ability to form habits is an important function of our brain and we have the ability to program any habit we desire into our subconscious. Unfortunately not all the habitual behaviour that is in our subconscious is serving us in a way that enhances our great potential.

As with all habitual actions, our minds become conditioned by repetition to a point where you can do things unconsciously. When we do things for the first time we use our conscious mind to really focus on what we are doing. We analyse what and how we are doing it, if the result is something we perceive is a benefit to us and want to do again. The more we do the same thing the more it becomes ‘hard-coded’ into our subconscious mind therefore taking less conscious effort to repeat the actions. After continued repetition, these series of actions can be so fixed in your subconscious mind you may not be consciously aware you are doing them at all.

Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a very positive adaptation for most of our everyday actions and it serves us very well. It frees up our conscious mind to focus on newer tasks or important things that need our closer attention. Imagine if each time we did them we had to give too much thought to; brushing our teeth, getting dressed, picking up a glass of water and drinking from it, turning the handle on a door and opening it, walking, typing on a keyboard. Plus here’s a good one; using your tongue to push food around your mouth and teeth so it gets chewed properly before swallowing. You had to learn how to do that to some degree as a young toddler without biting your tongue, though now you don’t even realise you do it until a piece of food gets stuck and you have to think about where your tongue is to move the food. If you actually focus on your tongue while you are chewing normally you will notice your tongue is extremely busy and doesn’t stop moving, while very rarely gets bitten. Imagine if you had to concentrate on doing that all the time.

We develop many learned helpful actions and habits when we are very young, plus more like how to operate your pushbike, motorbike or car as we get got older. My point is that if we do the same actions often enough, particularly if they are a reaction or response to a particular circumstance, they become what we call habitual behaviour. This includes things like snacking on certain foods, drinking tea or coffee, smoking, gesturing with your hands when talking, and yes drinking alcohol.

Many habits have ‘triggers’ that are associated with them and they can be different to each individual. Triggers can be things like a smell, type of food, music or sounds, time of day or night, particular movie or TV program, rainy weather, a place or particular person/s. Anything that you closely associate to your habit can be a trigger that may signal to your brain that you should be now engaging in that habitual behaviour. The trigger event initiates a chemical and physical response that at times can be completely subconscious and you find yourself having done the habitual behaviour without even realising it. Again this can be very beneficial, or very counter-productive, depending on the behaviour.

Drinking alcohol is a habit that people often form when young and after continued repetition can become a serious dependency. Some people begin drinking alcohol to feel adult, to fit in, feel confident or feel uninhibited. However, as the use is continued for these reasons and is hard-coded into the subconscious, it becomes habitual. The need for alcohol is triggered whenever those same conditions present themselves again, even if it is inappropriate. It is your subconscious mind telling you to use alcohol and it takes conscious effort to resist. Unfortunately if the person is already affected by alcohol, the reasoning function of the conscious mind becomes impaired and the subconscious mind will more than likely win out.

In my book Alcohemy I discuss how in thirty days we can rewire our brains to replace negative alcohol-related behaviour with new positive habits. We simply need to change the habitual response behaviour to the trigger events. Habitually drinking alcohol and chronic alcohol abuse can be reversed.

I would be very interested to read your comments or about experiences you have where you (or someone you know) has had problems with subconscious habitual behaviour, especially if alcohol-related. Please add your comments below.