What is a Habit? (and why you should care)

Thanks to habits, a large chunk of your life is run on autopilot. The more effective those habits, the better.

“Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits.” — Samuel Beckett

Thanks to habits, your behavior is on autopilot nearly half the day.

According to scientific studies, habits make up roughly 40% of your behavior each day. That number is a bit shocking when you first see it.

Now that I have your attention, what exactly is a habit?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines habits as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” Wikipedia defines them as “a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.”

According to Atomic Habits author James Clear, “habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.” The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg adds automaticity. “Simply put, a habit is a behavior that starts as a choice, and then becomes a nearly unconscious pattern.”

Stanford Professor, social scientist and Tiny Habits author BJ Fogg describes habits this way: “When it comes to behavior, decision and habit are opposites. Decisions require deliberation, habits do not.”

What once starts as a conscious decision becomes unconscious. This is the defining characteristic of all habits, whether they be atomic, tiny, small or any other size.

The advantage of habits is they require little conscious thought. You can use those extra cycles to make other decisions. Effective habits make you more efficient.

Why should you care?

Not all habits are effective. Doomscrolling your Twitter feed is not just ineffective. It is downright wasteful and destructive. If a significant portion of your 40% consists of these types of habits, then you may go over a cliff on autopilot while blissfully ignorant.

Keep a close eye on those habits to ensure what is automatic is also effective. Then take the excellent advice of the authors previously mentioned (and little old me) to replace ineffective habits with effective ones.

If 40% of your life is driven by habit, make sure you are are getting the most bang for your subconscious buck!