Our lives would certainly change if we became aware. This little five letter word is so powerful. It means, awake, having knowledge of something, vigilance in observing or alertness.
We all have our little (and big) habits. Routine, we call it. From the moment we wake up we follow our routine which could be brushing our teeth, getting our warm drink of choice, checking in with social media, meditating (notice I didn’t put that first, because what if I don’t have time for that one), getting dressed. Well you get the picture. A paper published by a Duke University researcher found that nearly 40% of the actions people perform each day are not actual decisions, but habits…
My boss gave me this fabulous book entitled “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg. I will quote a few things from this book that I find fascinating.
MIT researchers began to study habits in the 1990’s and upon doing many experiments, found that deep inside our brains, toward the center of the skull is a golf ball size lump of tissue. This is identified as the basal ganglia which scientists found to be integral to habits, among other things. This little bundle of cells is central to recalling patterns and acting on them.
When the rest of the brain goes to sleep, the basal ganglia is storing our habits. But it doesn’t decipher which habits are benefiting or not benefiting us. That is ultimately up to us to decide.
A little more science…this process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, comes the trigger. We all know about triggers. Our goal is to become aware of them, right? The trigger tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then, the routine comes into play – which could be mental, physical, spiritual. After that, the reward – which will help us figure out whether this loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop – cue-routine-reward becomes automatic, stored in the basal ganglia. Our brain now doesn’t have to do so much work, as the habit has been born. This cue-reward business is pretty interesting to me. This is what creates the powerful sense of anticipation and craving for whatever habit we have.
There’s this quote from St. Paul that says (and I paraphrase) “those things which I do not want to do, I DO, and those things which I want to do, I DO NOT DO. Wretched man that I am”…Haha. Sounds like a pretty human condition we all are aware of.
The good news is habits are not our destiny. They can be ignored, changed, or replaced. We have all heard the phrase it takes 21 days to make or break one. Understanding this habit loop is important, however, because once formed, unless you deliberately fight the habit, it will unfold automatically. And these habits will emerge without our permission. Scary, huh?
I’ll let you in on one of my bad habits that I’m working on daily. I think I need to have an opinion about just about everything. This has created some fuss over the years in my relationships. Along with an opinion, there’s sometimes judgement that says “hmmm…you’re doing it wrong. Why don’t you do it THIS way (my way, the better way!!!) instead.” Now, I’m probably the only one out there with this habit, and admitting it puts me in a vulnerable position. Admitting it is the first step to breaking the habit.
Awareness, admitting you have a problem, changing it. Another loop. A friend was sharing with me a difficult situation she was dealing with. I literally sat there and listened as I bit my tongue. Of course, I have an opinion – we all do. But do I need to share it? Especially when I’m not asked to? So, I’m working on that one. But there are others still to be dealt with…
What if every morning, when we wake up, we sit down with ourselves for just a few minutes and take a good look at some our “bad” habits? Just take one. Because changing just one will lead to a number of other changes, without you even realizing it. For example, if I replaced smoking (I actually rid myself of that one years ago) with jogging. That’s just one thing – every time I feel the craving for a cigarette, I go jog. It can be for 5 minutes, or 50. Just until that initial nagging feeling wears off. After a short amount of time, that one decision would change how I eat, work, spend money, sleep, schedule my work week, and plan for my future. All those things would change with just one decision.
Pretty cool. If we break it down, it’s not so difficult. In fact, it’s exciting.
I encourage you to try this – just pick one bad habit you want to change. And create a new one in its place – one that will turn your life around for the better.
Let that little basal ganglia do its job.
Next blog, we’ll talk about how to create the new habits and the golden rule of habit change.