Hacking Habits

Habits can be both good and bad. Habit formation can be both positive and negative. Webster’s dictionary defines a “habit” as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.”  In other words, a “habit” is something that we do regularly, either somewhat involuntary or completely involuntary. We often don’t take the time to think deeply about our habits, instead we mindlessly embrace them. Do we have too? Can habits be changed? If so, how?

It is important for professionals of all types to examine their habits, and examine what is helping their professional growth and what is hindering it. As individuals, we should seek to embrace our good habits, because they are healthy, help us to live a better life, and make us more of an asset to our community.  Good habits can include but are not limited to exercising daily, practicing mindfulness, asking for advice from your peers, conversing with your mentor, and practicing time management during and after work.  On the other hand, bad habits include but are not limited to smoking, not eating a healthy breakfast before work, not lesson planning, treating one individual at work poorly on purpose, and gossiping about one’s coworkers. Bad habits are inherently harmful to one’s self, and often to others.  The problem with bad habits is that they are hard to break, but they can in-fact be broken.

The secret to unlocking one’s ability to break bad habits and craft positive habits is to understand the neurological process that help us act on one’s habits.  According to “Habits: How they Form and How to Break Them published by NPR,  both good and bad habits are formed in the same way, via the “habit loop.”  The habit loop involves a cue, a routine, and a result.  The cue leads to the routine, which leads to the result.  The figure below explains and illustrates this process.



Habit formation.PNG                                                                                               

The more an individual utilizes a cue, to trigger a routine, leading to a result, the stronger the habit will become and ultimately the harder it will be to break.  As habits become formed, the prefrontal cortex (which controls decision making processes) becomes less active, and our habits become increasingly involuntary.  In other words, our habits become second nature.

Our second nature, or our habitual actions, can in-fact be changed.  To do so, we must alter our cues, which alter our routines, and lead to different results. If seeing an individual you dislike at cues you to be angry, which then leads you to act by ignoring them rudely, resulting in your own feelings of guilt and the hurting of feelings of the other individual, you need to alter your routine and possibly begin expecting different results.

“Sow a thought, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny,” said Stephen R. Covey, writer of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a bestselling book that helps empower individuals to become their best selves.  Covey’s quote rings true, our thoughts ultimately lead to our destiny by the continuation of our habits. We have the power to start new positive habits, and terminate old ones.  You can use the chart I constructed below to help you think through terminating your habits that may be harming your personal and professional development.

List Bad Habit:

Cues Routines Results


New Routines New Results

Please take the time to watch this video titled “A Simple Way to break a Bad Habit.” This video was published by TED, and the speaker is Judson Brewer, a mindfulness expert.  He discusses in-depth how to use mindfulness to counteract issues associated with habit formation and dissolution.

Reflection Questions:

  • What are my positive habits?
  • What are my negative habits?
  • How can I work to limit my negative habits?
  • Do you see any patterns in your habitual behavior?
  • How will monitoring your habits help improve your classroom teaching abilities?

One thought on “Hacking Habits

  1. The reflection questions posted at the end of this post are very helpful and I will use them as a guide for my next journal entry! The power of reflection and awareness…


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