The 6 Types of Habits You Need To Know About

Not all habits are created the same. For example, shaking a bad habit like smoking works differently than building a good habit like meditating. They each have their own process.

Understanding these different types of habits will give you a better chance of succeeding with them.

Learn what six types of habits there are, strategies for making them stick, and why you must sometimes mix up your routine.

1. Good vs. Bad Habits

Good habits are behaviors that support a positive outcome. For example, if you eat a healthy diet, you are probably going to live longer.

Vice versa, bad habits are habits that support a negative outcome. In all likelihood, smoking a pack a day will cut your life short.

Practical Considerations

With either of those, you should start small.

For example, if you are trying to build a meditation habit, start with just one minute a day. Do that for a week straight, then increase to two minutes. In week three, do three minutes. And so on.

The required effort is so ridiculously low that the new behavior feels effortless. It becomes almost impossible to fail.

With bad habits, this matters even more. They are harder to shake, as we have spent more time establishing them. Some people have been smoking their whole adult lives.

Also, bad habits play into our natural vices. For example, we are genetically wired to enjoy carbs. When we could find them, putting on some fat gave us a better chance of survival.

Now we can have all the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos we want — and most of us do. It is hard to resist. You are literally fighting your genes.

Thus, you must go even more granular than before. Out of the 20+ meals you eat per week, replace just one with a healthy option, like grilled salmon with steamed broccoli. Everybody can eat like that for just one meal per week.

Keep this up for a month. Then introduce a second healthy meal per week. Another month goes by. A third healthy meal. And so on.

This is how you overcome bad habits — by making the change so tiny, so gradual, that your body doesn’t even notice how you are tricking it.

2. Conscious vs. Unconscious Habits

Conscious habits are behaviors that you are aware of. You intellectually know that you are doing them, and you can name them.

Unconscious habits are the opposite. You don’t realize you are doing them, and you cannot name them. But other people can, as they get annoyed by them.

Practical Considerations

The problem is with unconscious, bad habits. How can you stop doing something that you don’t even know you are doing?

One strategy is to ask for feedback from people who know you well. The challenge is to get them to tell you the truth. We are reluctant to be frank with those who matter to us.

So, you must reassure them. Tell them you won’t hold it against them. And then you must really not do so.

Alternatively, you could set up a system where others can give anonymous feedback on your negative behaviors, like you being choleric or picking your nose. This is easy to do with a tool like SurveyMonkey.

The more difficult part is to convince people to go along with such a strange request. But the payoff is worth it — you will come to understand how others perceive you.

Finally, you could start journaling to bring unconscious behaviors to the forefront. The trick is to pay special attention to any friction and conflict in your life. Then analyze the reasons, always assuming you are part of the problem.

3. “Scientific” Habits

In psychology textbooks, you can often find the following classification:

  • Motor habits
  • Intellectual habits
  • Habits of character

Motor Habits

Motor habits refer to certain physical habits that we display. Examples would be the way we move our arms while running, or how we are in the habit of biting our nails.

Cognitive Habits

Cognitive habits, also called intellectual habits, refer to the way we think. We might prefer to think long-term over short-term or be prone to negative self-talk.

Habits of Character

Habits of character refer to our emotional behaviors. For example, we might avoid conflict at all costs, or easily get upset with other people.

Practical Considerations

The key takeaway here is that a vast number of our behaviors are habitual, down to the smallest motor pattern.

That runs contrary to our self-image. We like to think of ourselves as these rational machines who make decisions based on facts. But in truth, we have automated most of our actions.

This is to save energy. If we had to consciously decide every little thing we do, we would exhaust ourselves quickly. Our daily reservoir of attention would be gone within an hour. Habits bring that cost down significantly.

Learning how to drive is a good example. When you started, you had to consciously focus on every little detail. After your first few driving lessons, you probably felt brain-fried.

Now you are easily steering your car through rush hour traffic while listening to music and simultaneously talking to your co-driver. The energy cost is next to zero.

The important question to ask then is which behaviors should we automate and which not. We must consciously choose what we want to be unconscious about.

Successful people have mastered this. They will automate high ROI activities like becoming organized, eating healthy, or working out.

The less successful will automate behaviors like checking their Instagram, ordering the super-sized meal, or going to bed too late.

Habits decide everything — so we must decide on the right habits.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Will Durant

4. Habits by Area of Life

Another way to classify habits is to look at what area of life they concern.

1. Health-Related Habits

Health-related habits are about nutrition, fitness, and sleep. Here are some examples:

  • Eat only unprocessed foods.
  • 3 times a week, lift weights.
  • Go to bed at the same time.

2. Finance-Related Habits

Any recurring behavior related to your finances. Examples include:

  • Track all your expenses.
  • Save 30 percent of your monthly income.
  • Listen to an investing podcast for 30 minutes.

4. Business-Related Habits

The success of your business is tied to your business habits. A few examples:

  • Study a business-related skill for 30 minutes each day.
  • Cold-call 5 new clients.
  • Create a daily piece of LinkedIn content.

5. Productivity-Related Habits

Productivity-related habits will increase your effectiveness. Examples include:

  • Plan your next day the previous night.
  • Don’t check your messages first thing in the morning.
  • Practice the inbox zero method.

6. Relationship-Related Habits

This category includes all habitual behaviors concerning other people. Some examples:

  • Call an important person in your life every day.
  • Express your gratitude towards someone.
  • Give a stranger a compliment.

7. Spirituality-Related Habits

All types of spiritual practices. Examples include:

  • Meditate for 10 minutes every day.
  • Read a holy book for half an hour.
  • Pray (if you are so inclined).

8. Consumption-Related Habits

Consumption-related habits try to combat excesses. Some examples are:

  • Every day, throw something away that you don’t use anymore.
  • Refrain from checking social media.
  • Don’t take your phone with you when you leave the house.

9. Mindset-Related Habits

The way we think about the world and ourselves has a big impact on our success. Mindset-related habits utilize that:

  • Whenever something bad happens, actively look for solutions.
  • With every decision you make, consider the long-term consequences.
  • Each day, read your vision statement to remind yourself of your goals.

Practical Considerations

All of these different areas influence each other.

For example, getting more sleep will not just improve your health but also increase your productivity. You will have better focus and get more things done.

When you look closely, this crossover effect is everywhere. Invest in one area of life and other, adjacent areas will be positively impacted.

When you realize this interconnectedness, you can overcome roadblocks that previously seemed insurmountable.

For example, you might be fixated on generating more leads for your business. So, you cold-call as many potential customers as you can.

But what might be really holding you back is your lack of self-organization. If you forget to follow up in time, you won’t close many deals. You must set yourself reminders.

Develop a holistic outlook on life. Everything is connected.

5. Habits by Cost

Each new behavior we are trying to establish comes with a cost in energy. The lower that cost, the easier the habit will be to establish. The higher the cost, the harder it will be to establish.

Let’s say you are trying to become a professional guitar player. To get there, you must practice your scales and chords for several hours each day.

At the same time, you also want to establish a gratefulness habit. So, each day, you write down three things you are thankful for.

The difference in cost is huge. 5 hours of daily guitar practice will cost you much more than your 5-minute gratefulness habit, even though you love playing the guitar. Sheer volume matters.

Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.

Julius Erving

Practical Considerations

Don’t pile habit onto habit, as if they were all the same. Estimate what each habit will cost you in energy. Then pick as many as you can realistically handle.

Also, introduce high-cost habits gradually.

Instead of right away practicing the guitar for five hours each day, start with ten minutes or even just five minutes. Then, slowly, over time, increase the volume.

Most people don’t want to bother with this drawn-out process. They want to feel like go-getters. “I’m all in!”

But the average person who signs up for the gym in January quits by March — only to do it all over again next year. Nothing is being accomplished this way.

Taking it slow is the shortcut. Incrementally work up to your desired behavior, and it will stay with you for life.

A third option for managing your energy is what I call a placeholder habit.

Instead of ruling, “I have to do yoga for two hours,” just commit to putting on your yoga clothes every day. You don’t have to do anything afterward.

But in reality, on many days, you will end up doing some yoga. It’s the whole, “I am already here, so I might as well just do it” logic.

6. Keystone Habits

Keystone habits lay the foundation for more specific habits.

The best example is sleep. If you don’t get good sleep every night, it doesn’t matter what other habits you have committed to. Without proper sleep, you won’t be able to execute them well.

Keystone habits are usually concerned with health, mindset, or relationships. These topics are universal to the human experience. Therefore, everybody profits from them, no matter what specific goals you aspire to in life.

Practical Considerations

While certain habits are more foundational than others, you still need to tailor them to the individual.

For example, most people want to come across confident. And for a timid person, adopting new confident behaviors might be the right thing to do.

But for a person that is too cocky to start with, if you tell them to act even more confidently, they will alienate everybody. For them, the right move is to tone it down.

Whenever you get advice, consider the other person’s biases. They can only pass on what worked for their situation.

The solution is testing.

Try out plenty of new habits and observe how you react to them. Does the new behavior sit well with your personality? Or does everything inside you rebel against the new behavior?

Building keystone habits is predicated on self-awareness. You must apply and then you must observe yourself while applying. Do this for long enough, and you will eventually find the right lever.

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