Think about the first five things you did this morning. You didn’t have to think about them very much did you? That’s because they are habits. Those things that seem to happen almost automatically and we don’t have to try very hard to do them. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s bad.
Here’s how it happens. When you do something new there’s a lot of brain activity and you are very aware of your actions. But, deep in the center of the brain in the basal ganglia the pattern is being laid down and recorded. It’s making your life easier. Soon you won’t have to think much about what you are doing because it will become a habit. So for example as you drive to work you aren’t thinking about how to drive or what roads to take, you are thinking about what you are going to do that day, or what your kids have been up to lately. Your brain is freed up from routine activities to think about other more important things. We would be prisoners to every action we take without it.
It is our greatest friend or our toughest foe.
So how do you become the master of your habits? You want to either create new “good” ones or change the “bad” ones to “good” ones. You must first understand the parts of a habit and then decide what you want to do with them.
First, we should understand there is a reward with every habit. What are you getting for doing the things you do? Do you exercise regularly to enjoy slim health or eat a bowl of ice cream every night for the enjoyment? When your habit first started you made a decision to do the action and then over time it just got easier and now you feel a kind of compulsion to do it. The reward you were looking for got you started, a repeated action takes place, and then becomes a habit, and to start the whole thing there is a trigger that tells your brain it’s time to activate the habit.
The Trigger: the thing that brings on the action. For exercise it may be the time of day you always do it. It could be you getting up in the morning, putting on your exercise clothes and start your activity. For ice cream it could be sitting down to your favorite show on TV. You started eating ice cream a few times and now you find yourself being pulled to the freezer with a rope of steel that you can’t seem to break. It’s powerful stuff.
The Action: a bad habit starts innocently enough. “I’ll just do this once and enjoy the indulgence. That was pretty good, I’ll do that again just one more time, and before you know it you are off to a new habit that is almost impossible to break.” A good habit is always tougher to create. One way to know it is good for you is that it doesn’t come easy. We only grow when we push onward and upward. The easy has always been what our brain likes to do, those things that doesn’t make us work hard. We have to make a plan to do those things that are good for us and make us grow. Then, after a while, you are rewarded with it becoming easy to do. Like second nature after a while, but the beginning is hard and you have to believe in the process to just keep going.
The Reward: the thing you do that brings about the planned and unplanned reward. We always get something out of what we do. Like being slim or tasting sugary sweetness. But the unplanned rewards are where the “good” and “bad” comes from. With exercise we become more self-confident and feel empowered. With ice cream we tend to gain fat and feel worse about ourselves. Be in control of the actions and thus the rewards.
So now let’s change a bad habit. Why not, you know why you have a habit and what the parts are that make it a habit. You have everything you need to change a “bad” habit to a good one. Start with your reward, what do you get out of the habit? Think about what you really get, it could be something that you don’t realize at first. Does drinking alcohol reward you in the way you feel or the social connections that come with it? Now consider what the action is. Is the action the only way to get the reward or is it time to upgrade the reward to what you really want? Once those decisions have been made consider what your trigger is. What happens that makes the need to do the habit kick in. You don’t want to do your habit all day long so what is it that has to happen to trigger the habit? A sight, a person, a time of day, a feeling all can be a trigger. Discover yours and take a different action, and either get the reward that goes with it or a new improved reward. You get to choose, you are in control!
How about a new positive habit? Fresh ground to work with. What is the reward you want? What is the action you need to make? What is the trigger that will ignite the action to happen? It’ll be hard for a short time and then your “friend” deep in your brain will take over the heavy lifting and you are on your way to the reward you are looking for.
Here’s an example of a habit revamp: Let’s say in your business, you’re having trouble getting through your day without it running away with you. Everyone else’s demands seem to come before the projects you want to complete. So let’s look at the reward. You want to get to the end of your day having accomplished those things that will move your business forward in a powerful way. To accomplish that you should create a plan where time is set aside for working on your business. Create a plan that puts your priorities first. Know what jobs other people should be doing instead of you. Know when to say NO to someone’s demands and priorities. Keep certain times of your day untouchable for you to do your work.
What is your trigger for this kind of planning and organization? It could be a time of day, part of your shut down ritual, after a cup of coffee in the morning, you decide. Plan the trigger and make it happen.
Once you have a plan make sure you follow it. It has to be flexible, because no one has a day that runs like it is planned. But you can find blocks of time that are sacred for you.
Creating new habits can become a habit. It’s hard to make the change at first but becomes easier with practice and routine. You are the master of your own destiny. Let habits be a powerful ally.