A habit, quite simply, is an involuntarily behavior that has become settled into our daily routine through repetition or physiological exposure.
Psychologists believe 95% of human behavior occurs without much thought at all, with much behavior the result of automatic or programmed actions or responses to stimulus.
Some actions are brought on by triggers from the external environment and some triggered by our physical internal processes. How we respond to those triggers and the effects of the behaviors develop deep learned habits which is where things can often go amiss.
Habits bring on feelings of pleasure or contentment, and to not "scratch that itch" can cause some people serious discomfort and stress.
Habits make us feel normality and comfort – try writing with the opposite hand? It doesn't feel normal…doesn't feel right? When we swap back, its okay again – all is right with the world!
But some habits have a dark side. Take three very common substances we are all exposed to every day – nicotine, sugar and alcohol which have long been found to lead to serious and irreversible negative health effects, including early death.
These three amigos have significant physical habit forming effects that lead to pleasure, comfort and normality. To cease one or all can bring on feelings of anxiety, stress and depression making them hard nuts to crack.
Unlike the immediate feelings of comfort and normality when we drink a beer, eat chocolate or smoke a cigarette, we may not see these negative effects right away.
Sugar alone may not cause diabetes or heart disease but sugar and alcohol very well might. Smoking may not cause a single type of cancer but it's accepted that smoking and drinking alcohol greatly increase our chances of early death.
Health wise, over time sugar can damage arteries, eyes and kidneys. Nicotine from smoking leads to addiction and increased exposure to cancer causing chemicals. Alcohol damages the liver, the heart, the brain as well as increases the risk of developing cancer.
No one expects to be perfect or that going cold-turkey will work. We all suffer the human condition and will slip and slide the rollercoaster of breaking habits over time. What's important to know is that you're not alone – help is out there!
This New Year is a great time to adopt some positive habits that are good for us, while trying to ditch the bad.