OTs consider habits as specific, automatic behaviors that may support - or hinder - occupational performance. The key to habits is that they are automatic so that we don't even really think about these behaviors when we do them. Examples may include the way we brush out teeth, the order in which we get dressed, how we groom our hair, or the way we place our keys in the same place upon arriving home (well - I have hear some people do that!).
What purpose do habits serve? In OT terms, effective habits enable us increase the efficiency of our occupational performance because the behaviors are automatic. For instance, how long would our morning self-care routine be if we actually had to stop and think about performing each step of brushing our teeth, getting dressed, or grooming our hair? It would take us HOURS to get ready - everyday!! But because our habits enable us to do large portions of our daily tasks efficiently, our occupational performance is improved.
But what happens when an injury or illness occurs and we are no longer able to utilize our existing habits? As OTs we work with clients to find new ways to do things, or adapt an activity, but do we use the term "habits" when working together?
Wallenbert and Jonsson (2005) published a fascinating study on the challenges people with stoke encountered in developing new habits to support their occupational performance. They discovered the participants in their study were often reluctant to utilize the adaptive strategies they learned through OT, or develop new habits, as this would be an acknowledgment that they would not continue to progress. It was as if they resisted developing new habits, they could remain in a "waiting" period to see if things improved. For me, reading the words of the study participants, made me think of our OT process in such a different way.
So, do you specifically address habits with your clients?
Wallenbert, I., & Jonsson, H. (2005). Waiting to get better: A dilemma regarding habits in daily occupations after stroke. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59, 218–224.