The notion of habit figures prominently in theories of health-related behavior and in efforts to encourage people to develop consistency and regularity in the healthful behavior of daily life. The consensus definition of habit as automatic and mindless behavior, however, presents three logical and philosophical problems. First, this definition of habit is at odds with the way most of our theories of health behavior try to employ the notion. Second, the behaviors of concern to most health, exercise, and sport psychologists are not the kinds of behaviors to which this definition of habit applies easily, if at all. Third, the kind of mindless behavior suggested by this definition may be conducive to enhancing physical health and athletic performance, but it may be inconsistent with the essential elements of happiness or subjective well-being according to Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism, and according to the growing research on the psychology of happiness.
James E. Maddux is with the Department of Psychology at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030.