Most of the things that you do every day, are the result of habits.
You can reach for your toothbrush every morning, knowing exactly where it is, as you have formed a habit.
Whether you have coffee and donuts for breakfast, or a banana and green tea, is a result of habit.
If you go for a run in the morning, before your banana and green tea and sleep well each night, you are able to do this because of good habits you have already formed.
If you stretch out in front of the TV after your coffee and donut and wish you would start to exercise and eat better, you have not yet formed the habit to allow you to make the change. Your donut eating, TV watching habit is stronger, and will kick in automatically for you, even though you really want to change.
How to change.
Willpower alone is not enough. There are of course, people who change their life around based on sheer willpower, but in doing so, they are in fact, changing habits, and pathways in their brain.
Most of us, give up when we slip back into old behaviours and patterns, and succumb to the false belief that we just don’t have the willpower.
I shall let you into a secret. It is not just about willpower. Having an understanding of your brain and how it creates habits will shed some light on your previous ‘failed’ attempts at change. I would go as far as to say that you did not fail, you just went about ‘change’ the wrong way.
What is a habit?
A habit is something that you can perform automatically, without thinking about it too much. Think: cleaning your teeth in the morning as part of your daily routine. You do not have to work yourself up to clean your teeth, or set alerts to remind you to clean them. You just do it, as you acquired the habit a long time ago.
Having your morning coffee when you come into the kitchen, or on your way to work. This is a habit. It occurs with very little conscious thought on your part.
How are habits formed?
Let’s go with the coffee example. If you take a train to work, and automatically buy a coffee while you wait for you train, this habit will have formed in the following way.
- At the start it requires conscious thought. Seeing the coffee stand, and
- Deciding that you would like a coffee
- Going to the coffee stand and buying a coffee
- Drinking your coffee on the train
- Repeat the next day, and the next and the next
What is happening when you do this?
You are forming associations and triggers to allow your habit to develop
Over time you associate arriving at the station with getting a coffee. The trigger can be the station, or seeing the coffee stand. This jogs your memory to buy a coffee.
You have to derive some sort of pleasure from it (a reward) for the habit to continue to strengthen. This might be liking coffee, the warmth of the cup in your head, the hit you get from the caffeine.
Eventually you have set up the following
Trigger to fire the habit – arriving at the station or seeing the coffee stand
Association with a reward – enjoying your morning coffee
Once formed, you grab a coffee every morning without having to think about it. If one morning you are late, the habit may be so strong that you miss your train as you had to have your coffee, or you are on the train, thinking about how to get your morning coffee when you get off.
You are now the proud owner a coffee habit loop!
If you are interested in changing habits or making new ones, you can sign up for my Changing Habits Course for free.