Unconscious Habits

Xperience Growthblogposts

Habits are a true gift. They give us the ability to innovate, learn, grow and advance as a person.

Habits are the result of a learned behavior, mental or emotional state based upon triggers. Explained further: something shows up in our external environment or in our mind that acts as a trigger. When triggered, we’ll be compelled to think, feel or perform based upon the trigger. Scientific studies suggest that over 70% of our waking moments are driven by our habits.

Here’s the thing about habits, the majority of the time it happens unconsciously. We don’t realize that we’re doing something. We just do. We just think. We just feel.

Habits aren’t just about actions. When we talk about habits, the default example is teeth brushing. It’s a universal habit. We also think about routines like how we prepare our kids’ lunches, drive to work or even put on pants (right leg first is the right way, right?!?).

Habits also come in the form of thoughts and feelings. Do you find yourself routinely getting upset at other drivers on the road? Habit. Do you find yourself getting anxious about speaking in public? Habit. Do you find yourself wanting to make small talk with most checkout folks, waiters, but not your airplane seat mate? Habit, habit, habit.

I was reminded about the power of our unconscious habits this week. Monday was the Memorial Day holiday and I didn’t have my “normal” Monday. It felt like a weekend day. I did have my normal Tuesday routine, Wednesday routine and Thursday routine.

By Thursday evening, the only difference this week and a typical week is  that “weekday” routines were done for 3 days instead of the typical 4 days.

On Thursday evenings, I have two chores at home: make the weekend grocery list and take the garbage, compost, and recycling bins out to the street. Like clockwork each week, I do those activities. It just pops in my mind after I say goodnight to the kids to do it.

Not this week. Neither the grocery list got done nor the trash got put out.

And it’s not just me. On the way to school on Friday, my 5-year-old said “today feels like a Thursday; yesterday a Wednesday.” A co-worker said that a typical Thursday evening/Friday first AM task completely slipped their mind.

We’ve learned the unconscious rhythm of our life and use those as triggers for habits. Our unconscious mind tells us “After what feels like my 4th work-week day I do/think/feel this…” Notice how it seems like every Friday evening you feel a similar way?? Or how about Monday morning?

What does this mean?

Simply put, most habits that we have are based on unconscious triggers that we don’t realize. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about the book “Unwinding Anxiety.” In the book, author Dr. Judson Brewer describes the habit loop of trigger —> behavior —> reward.

This shows how pattern oriented we are. It works in our favor and against us, too. When we have emotional junk coming up, bouts of frustration or negative self-talk that keeps us from achieving our goals – those “mental behaviors” are likely from an unconscious trigger we’re not even aware of.

What can I do about it?

Two things:

  1. Notice when you are unconsciously thinking, feeling or doing things that will not produce results you want. Stop and examine the possible triggers that lead to that unwanted behavior.
  2. Get proactive. Think through some of the most important actions you plan to do on a given day. Consider the mindset and emotional state you want to be in to achieve a successful outcome. Create some conscious environmental triggers that will allow you to think, feel and perform your peak. This could be at work, with a relationship, with your health or any other pillar of your life.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did get the trash to the curb in time for pick up. And our groceries got ordered in time so that we’ll have food over the weekend. Piled up trash and an empty fridge would surely trigger other unwanted consequences… which on the bright side would make for some interesting blog fodder.