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Explanations > Behaviors > Habit > Habituation

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Habits, which appears as patterns of actions, are formed by the process of habituation. Within this, there is:

  • A trigger, which initiates the habitual behavior.
  • Action, which constitutes the visible part of the habit.
  • A reward, which provides reinforcement for the action.
  • Thoughts, that can act as trigger, drive action and be rewarding.
  • Repetition, that imprints the habit, causing learning that transfers its to unconscious.


There is always something that starts the habit, initiating the action routine. Triggers may be:

  • A simple single external event
  • Internal thoughts
  • Complex combinations of events and thoughts

The basal ganglia is involved in 'remembering' the context of the habit and triggers the action.


The action is the substantive part of the habit. This often involves visible action. It can also include internal thoughts, self-talk, etc.

During the action there should not be any distraction or anything that stops the action sequence from completing.

During habituation, actions may vary a little but will be sufficiently similar each time for the habit to form. This includes the duration that the action takes. If others dislike the action, the habituated form may be short, so it can be performed quickly.

Once the habit is formed, the person will find interruption frustrating or irritating. They will either try to prevent any form of interruption, or will modify the routine to cope so it can be successfully completed. For example if a person is criticized for biting their nails, they may turn away to do it or ignore critical comments.


The process of habituation always includes a reward, which provides reinforcement and reason for the person to perform the habit.

Rewards are most often internal, for example where the person feels comforted. External rewards include situations such as an irritating itch is removed.


A child, when criticized by a teacher, flinches and apologizes. As an adult they continue this, apologizing on a regular basis within ordinary conversations, often starting with 'I'm sorry...' even when no apology is appropriate.

A person tends to forget things like keys and wallet when they go out, so they deliberately pin up a checklist on the door. After a while, they are habitually patting pockets and checking bags when they see the front door to ensure they have what they need before they leave. They then take down the sign.


Habituation is a form of conditioning, where, in the ABC pattern, triggers are antecedents, actions are behaviors and rewards are consequences.

Habit often form unconsciously as a form of coping to handle uncomfortable situation, for example where a child starts sucking a thumb as a comforting nipple replacement, or where a manager snaps at subordinates as a way of getting things done quickly.

Habits can also developed deliberately as a person conditions themself to perform certain actions or think certain thoughts in target situations.

So what?

Use the understanding of how habits are formed to build habits for the things you want to always do. Also use this understanding to find ways to kick the bad habits that are getting in your way.

See also

ABC analysis, Conditioning


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