Every morning when you get up you probably hit your alarm without thinking about it, roll out of bed, and grab your slippers and a robe. Maybe you walk into the kitchen and start making coffee before you’re even fully awake—hitting the light switch as you go without consciously deciding to turn on the light.

These are your habits.

“A habit is a choice you make at some point that you stop making and continue doing,” said Charles Duhigg, author of the book The Power of Habit. A habit is a behavior that becomes automatic, with little or no conscious thought.

At some point, when you were learning to ride clip-in pedals, you had to think consciously about it every time you unclipped on the bike and tried to stop. You had to consciously think about leaning to that side and putting your foot down. It was a choice. And everyone who’s ever tried to learn how to ride clip-in pedals knows sometimes, while you were turning that routine into a habit, you’d mess it up—you’d lean to the wrong side, tip over, and fall. But over time, after lots of practice, it became an automatic action. Unclip, lean, put foot down. Now, you probably don’t even think about it. In fact, thinking about it might make it hard to remember what exactly it is you do subconsciously, which foot you always unclip with.

Of course, not every habit is a good habit or even a neutral one. It’s also a habit when you automatically reach for the extra beer or glass of wine after dinner, or when you hit the snooze button each morning and roll over to go back to sleep. But those habits you’d like to lose are just as hard to stop as it is to unlearn how to ride a bike. At this point, they’re automatic.

How do we build healthier habits? And how do we get rid of the ones that aren’t helping us towards our goals?

Not every habit is a habit

Let’s start by pointing out: Not everything can become a habit. Not every questionable thing you do is a bad habit. Not every good choice you make can become automatic and easy. Some choices are just choices.

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