Person biting nailsA habit is any learned behavior that becomes relatively reflexive over time. Common habits include nail-biting, thumbsucking, and some varieties of fidgeting.

Habit Development

Habits are conditioned responses that are often context-dependent. The more frequently a behavior is repeated in a particular context, the more likely it is to be repeated in the future. For example, a person who smokes a cigarette every time he or she has a conversation that lasts for more than five minutes has developed a habit, and the more frequently he or she smokes during conversation, the more likely he or she will be to smoke in the future during conversation.

Many habits are comforting responses to unfamiliar or anxiety-inducing situations. Children often develop habits based on reflexes. Thumb-sucking can develop as a result of early sucking reflexes that the child directs toward the thumb. Many children who suck their thumbs are more likely to do so in stressful situations and in contexts that might activate rooting and sucking reflexes in infants.

Because people do not typically examine their behaviors in mundane, everyday circumstances, they may not notice their habits or may only notice them once they are strongly established and cause problems.

Habit and Addiction

A habit is not necessarily an addiction, though the two are strongly correlated. Habits are behavioral, and addictions have a partially biological aspect. A person who drinks soda daily has a habit of drinking soda in a particular context, but may develop a chemical dependency on caffeine as a result of this habit. Addiction therapists frequently focus on helping their clients break the habits that accompany addiction.

Healthy and Unhealthy Habits

Habits can be either positive or negative behaviors. The habit of reflexively locking the door may likely be considered a positive habit, though it is also one that might cause a person to unthinkingly lock his or her keys in the house. Psychotherapy often focuses on helping people replace unhealthy or unhelpful habits with healthy or helpful ones. For example, a couple in the habit of fighting every time that it is time to do chores might work on developing the habit of listening to music, dancing, or talking about the day during chore time.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. MIT explains why bad habits are hard to break (n.d.). PsychCentral.com. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2005/10/20/mit-explains-why-bad-habits-are-hard-to-break/

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

  • 1 comment
  • Leave a Comment
  • Ann D.

    Ann D.

    October 18th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Need help for being so lonely after husband passed away no friends stay in my home scared to leave won’t drive wen I’m feeling so afraid of going out stay in ! I want to get better need help not pills again they don’t help me ! Need pills for Bp and thyroid im on a sleeping pill sometime it works sometimes get one ore 2 hrs sleep can’t nap ! Need help ?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.