Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly, tend to occur subconsciously, without directly thinking consciously about them. Habitual behavior sometimes goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting them, because it is often unnecessary to engage in self-analysis when undertaking in routine tasks. Habituation is an extremely simple form of learning, in which an organism, after a period of exposure to a stimulus, stops responding to that stimulus in varied manners.

Pragmatism and functional psychology

Habit loomed large in the psychological writing of the Pragmatism, William James and John Dewey, and the functional psychologists, the early advocates of which were students of Dewey. Chapter IV of James's Principles of Psychology puts habit as a fundamental building block of human behavior and mentions habit as applicable in thought as well. Habit is a very central theme in Dewey's research and writing.

Habits develop by doing an action enough times that the neurons in the brain create a pathway that enable them to move quickly from a trigger point, i.e. watching television, to performing the habit, eating. We can have different types of habits. For ex: social habits, habits formed as a result of skills we have, and even thought habits. (www.bu.edu)

Habitual behavior can take days or years to develop, depending on the complexity of the habit, and how often it is performed. Good habits help us keep our lives in order, but often when stressed we fall back to old habits. When we are stressed our memory is not as prominent and our behavior may be different, so people become more prone to fall back on their older habits. (Psychological science.org)

Comparative research

Ellen Langer in her books, especially Mindfulness, has portrayed mindfulness as good and habit, mindlessness, as bad. "A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective." "Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by an entrapment in old categories; by automatic behavior that precludes attending to new signals; and by action that operates from a single perspective."

In contrast, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow seems to portray habitual behavior as indispensable for and almost indistinguishable from flow, which he clearly views as a good thing.

Social psychologist Daniel Wegner has theorized that all of our behavior is automatic in the sense of being beyond our conscious control and that the experience of conscious control is an illusion.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Habits. The Official Guide to Habits is Cindy Loughran. Cindy Loughran, Founder and CEO of New Leaf Touchstone is a Certified Professional Coach and Change agent. For 20 years, she has worked with teams and individuals to help them make the changes that have enabled them to be more effective and personally satisfied in all areas of their lives. An experienced professional coach, Cindy has supported many individuals as they navigate the journey to greater success and personal satisfaction. Cindy has spoken on a variety of change and self-empowerment topics. She was recognized in 2007 as one of Boston’s Top Ten Coaches by the Women’s Business Boston. She has been a contributor to national trade and business journals and anthologies, and has been a guest on numerous business talk radio shows. Her focus as a coach is to help people act on their intentions and make change stick. Her ‘Living On Purpose’ coaching process and tools have been instrumental in effecting positive change for her clients.

Additional Resources on Habits can be found at:

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Cindy Loughran, the Official Guide to Habits