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Habits: Are They Working For or Against You?

Habits: Are They Working For or Against You?

We are creatures of habit. Habits are great because we don’t have to think about every move we make. It’s like being on auto pilot. But they can also keep us from achieving what we want in life.

We need to be aware of the habits that can help or hinder us. The next three posts will focus on understanding our habits and learning how we can replace them.

How did we choose the habits we have and what keeps them in place?

Connected to habits are behaviors of some kind. Behaviors continue because we get a payoff or reward that motivates us to keep doing what we are doing.

As behaviors are reinforced, they are repeated and soon become habitual. That reward comes either in the form of receiving something positive or removal of something we don’t want. We call one a “positive reinforcement” and the other a “negative reinforcement.”

Here are some examples of how that works:

A mother gives a child who is making a big fuss in the store some candy so he will be quiet. The child has just been “rewarded positively” for his yelling and screaming.

But the mother has also been rewarded. Hers was a “negative reward” because something she didn’t want was removed: the yelling and screaming stopped.

For habits to form, the behavior needs to be reinforced (positively or negatively) repeatedly and consistently. After they are in place, they only need to be reinforced intermittently. We call that “intermittent reinforcement.”

Example: Your child cleans his room and each time he does you reward him with a hug, positive comments and extra computer time which he highly prizes. Gradually, as cleaning his room becomes fairly consistent, only occasional rewards are needed such as “good job” comments or extra playtime. The behavior has become a habit.

When we evaluate our habits, it is important to examine the rewards we receive, both on a short term and long-term basis.

For example: it soon becomes a habit to come home from work and spend hours on social media sites. While it may be fun and relaxing after a long day, it can become addictive and other things do not get done—dinners become quick fixes, dishes don’t get washed, and children are sent out to play so we don’t have to be bothered. While there is nothing wrong with relaxing after a hard day at work, without limitations and time restraints that we set, those habits can soon take over our life.

Which habits do you have that are helping you over time?

We are the ones who establish the habits that soon become a lifestyle. And we are the only ones who can evaluate them and determine what changes we want to make.

All behaviors have a consequence of some kind. When evaluating our habits, it is important to consider how they affect us over time. If you want your life and goals to work for you, it’s important to know how you use your time.

Behavior Modification Summary

Here is a quick recap of how behaviors are reinforced and become habits. All behaviors have consequences – positive or negative, short-term and long-term.  And remember, habits and behaviors are kept in place because we are rewarded in some way.

1. Positive Reinforcement

Behavior = Consequence (something received) >> Behavior increases.

Example: Child cleans room, gets hug and extra TV time – behavior is reinforced and will continue or increase.

2. Negative Reinforcement

Behavior = consequence (something is removed) >> Behavior increases.

Example: Child whines at store for candy. Mom gives in, child is positively reinforced (gets candy); Mom is negatively rewarded because child stops whining. Child learns that whining eventually pays off if Mom at some point gives in. Mom chooses a quick solution to get peace, but with long term negative consequences.

3. Intermittent Reinforcement

Reinforcement is done once in a while rather than consistent and immediate.

Changing or Replacing Habits

To change habits, we change the behavior that is involved. Understanding our behaviors and the rewards we get is the first step in keeping those that are beneficial and replacing those that are not.

Next week’s post will discuss how to remove habits we don’t want.

Marlene Anderson

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