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By J. Gwathney


Most people don't think too deeply about habits until the subject comes up in a situation or circumstance. However, we as human beings go about our daily lives guided by habitual behavior. We tend to form behaviors around ideas that feel important to us, and that are suitable to the way we function in our surroundings. Our behaviors have a particular purpose in relation to how we interact with the world around us. Past experiences and present circumstances lead us to actions that we consider reasonable.

Without giving them much thought, we carry out automatic actions that go unnoticed once the habit is formed. Repetition of what was initially an intended action develops into a pattern of behavior. After repeating an action a number of times, the pattern can become so ingrained that it can be difficult to break.

In order to break a habit you may have to repeatedly replace it with some other behavior. When I was younger I had a bad habit of chewing on pencils. Every adult that I came across who saw me repeat this bad habit asked me to take the pencil out of my mouth. By replacing that pencil with hard candy, I was soon able to break the habit, and the replacement tasted a lot better, too!

With a sequence of steps, we unconsciously repeat certain actions until they become something that we get used to doing, like eating our favorite foods or taking safety measures to keep us out of dangerous situations. Having a particular action in mind, we have a tendency to gravitate toward whatever comes naturally to us.

In relation to community

Changing a society's habits has much in common with changing personal habits. In New York state, I barely noticed how fast recycling took place within the functioning of my community. At one time we included cans, bottles, cardboard and other recyclables in with what we considered garbage. Now separating those materials for recycling is part of a daily habit that's routine for many people to perform as a normal application. The idea that the community as a whole can accomplish a collective goal for a useful and helpful cause without intruding on personal preference is an appreciated concept in my eyes.

Exclusive habits

Personal habits for the most part are established without public consent, which could be a reason that it seems difficult for people to kick bad habits. For most people, the idea of changing a habit must be a strong desire in order for them to work seriously enough to break it.

Depending on how you think, your habits will follow the course of your individual tendencies. An action that a person feels is fulfilling a purpose is an action that most likely will be used in similar situations in some way. Our ability to develop habits is connected to our emotions and what we feel works best.

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