Introduce New Habits by Knowing How Your Brain Works
There is a lovely saying, “First you form your habits; then habits shape you.” And indeed, what we do determines who we are. We know many things that should be included in our daily lives and that would benefit us. But even if we know that these changes would improve our lives, it is not easy to break our old habits, which are often deeply rooted in our minds. To really change your lifestyle, you need to look carefully at how your mind works.
Why is it so difficult for us to start new habits?
Habits are essential to ease our minds every day. Our brains turn daily activities and behaviors into habits so that we do them automatically and without overthinking – freeing our brains for other matters. In other words, the brain automates the processes we repeat every day. The result is that about 40 percent of our actions are not conscious decisions but habits. We are not even aware of many of them. So it’s no surprise, when we implement any habit in life, we feel comfortable, even if it harms our well-being. In addition, habits never really disappear. They are simply overwhelmed by other habits.
Most often, when we decide to change something in our daily routine, we are overwhelmed with enthusiasm and have enough willpower to try it. Unfortunately, our willpower is made only for short-term action. So sooner or later, the commitment wears off, and, at that point, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue.
Know how habits are formed
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first to describe how habits form in our brains. There is a neurological process that underlies every habit, called the three-step loop, which is very powerful:
- Cue – any trigger that tells your brain when and which habit to use.
- Routine – an action, emotion, or behavior.
- Reward – how your brain determines whether a loop is beneficial to you or not.
For example, if we feel stressed (cue), we eat sweets (routine). Afterward, our brains know that we feel calmer (reward). To change our habit, we need to replace unwanted activity with a better one. For example, instead of resorting to sweets in times of anxiety, we can perform some breathing exercises. Even then, the brain will receive a signal that we are more relaxed, and if we repeat this pattern regularly, we will create a new loop to replace the old one completely.
What else to consider when introducing new habits?
- First, it’s worth finding out a list of better habits you want to implement in your life. Maybe you want to exercise in the morning and get up 1.5 hours earlier? Maybe reading for an hour or going to the pool 3 times a week is your dream? Cravings are the brain’s motivator. For something to become a habit, our brains need it. Look at which habits from your list take priority. You should pay more attention to them in the near future, as no more than three habits can be implemented at once, according to BJ Fogg at Stanford University.
- Second, review other things that may hinder/help you implement the new habit. For example, your goal is to go for a run in the morning. To get up at a specific time, you will need to go to bed earlier in the evening. If this is a problem for you, analyze: maybe it’s worth watching less TV or spending less time at the computer? Don’t try changing all your usual lifestyle right away; try replacing the TV watching with reading a few pages of a book. Once the habit is fully established – go to the next stage: cut out reading before bed.
- Third, the desired habit is worth introducing into your life gradually. Thus, the desire to get up earlier needs to be divided into several stages. For example, plan ahead so that the next morning you can do things automatically; plan the outfit, prepare your bag, and think about breakfast in the evening before. Then we move on to the next stage – we start getting up in the morning after the first alarm, not hitting the snooze.
- Fourth, don’t give up on your goal! Remember: it takes 3-4 weeks of regular activity for a habit to turn from a wish into something that goes without saying. If at least one day is skipped – the 21-28 day count starts from the beginning. Alternatively, you can prepare an action plan for yourself, crossing out what you have accomplished or marking the days you performed what you had planned. Excellent if you can make a public statement to your friends about your desire to introduce something useful into your life. This approach will help not lose motivation when the desire to give up everything is as strong as never.
Perhaps the most important thing you need to do to introduce a new habit is a genuine desire to make your life better and to understand what you need. Remember how often you planned to start a new life on Monday. However, the desired day changes with another, and the result is zero. When you find a sincere answer to the question “Who needs it?” and “What will I get in the final?” there will also be results and success. Read more: The Most Common Myths About Productivity