The Power of Habit
Habits are fundamentally the way our brains create shortcuts and become more efficient, expending less energy in doing the things that we do in life. It is a process where a 'cue' or trigger initiates a 'routine' or action and is followed with a 'reward' or beneficial outcome.
Habits can form without our conscious understanding or memory of why they formed in the first place as the cue and reward become entangled through repeated behaviour, the habit becomes autonomous or automatic.
Marketeers and advertisers have understood this since the early 1900s, and it is a common process used by businesses to this day. Just one famous example is McDonalds and other fast food chains.
Every McDonalds looks the same, the stores are deliberately standardised in look and what staff say, so that everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines. Some food is specifically engineered to deliver immediate rewards - the fries for instance are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centres to light up and the brain to lock in the pattern.
This is a good thing when we develop healthy habits, and clearly not good when we develop unhealthy habits. Another common bad example being smoking. The cue may be waking up in the morning, where you develop a routine of smoking a cigarette, and receive a perceived reward - the release of transient feel good neurotransmitters.
When we understand the process of cue, routine, reward, we can interfere with it to change habits. Habits can be very strong, but also very delicate, and by changing a certain condition of the routine, ie environmental, social, emotional etc., we can interrupt the pattern and change the habit.
Furthermore, when we understand the process, we can deliberately form new habits by setting a cue, establishing a routine, which gives a real reward, and then repeating.
Consistency is key.