Why is it so difficult to change our habits?
What is it in the brain that stops us from forming new, more beneficial habits?
And, is it actually possible to solidify more productive and positive routines? Yes, most definitely yes!
Today I’m delving into the topic of our actions. And when we really break it down, all of our actions (habits) form in our brain because of the programming its been subject to.
When we have put the packet of lollies away, but then keep going back to grab ‘just one more’, the reason we continually do this is because it’s routine. You like the lollies, you know they’re there, they’re easily accessible, it requires little effort to go back and get a few more and you do it regularly, so you know it is something you can get. While this habit can be fulfilling in the moment, later we usually are flooded with dread and regret because we’ve gone over the top. This is how many habits grow to have a negative effects on our mindset.
In these situations, it is the brain who is in control of it all. It is hard wired to function as efficiently as possible. We don’t even think twice about how to brush our teeth, or how to walk up the stairs because the habit happens almost instantaneously. Our brain’s main goal is to get things done with the least amount of effort and it ultimately wants to use the smallest amount of energy to perform any tasks required. The neural pathways in this way are aiming to be automatic, they have memorised repetitive patterns and keep reverting to doing the same thing. This is the very reason why habits are so hard to break.
A name it is commonly referred to is cognitive laziness. Our new, fruitful habits fail because we don’t want to land in the land of uncomfortable. Our brain wants to keep doing things that are efficient. And Why? Because when things are NOT efficient they are harder! Cognitive laziness, therefore, is when our brain reverts to doing the same thing over and over again and doesn’t worry about learning new things.
Unfortunately, this cognitive laziness can be deeply rooted into our subconscious, and for us to change the dreaded habits and solidify new routines, there’s no easy way to say it – you’ll have to work extremely hard!
The best answer I’ve found, we literally have to train our brains to do a new thing. And this does take effort. And it’s not always easy. And we will want to give up or quit. BUT if our need to overcome the negative habit is greater than the habit itself. We can do it, and we’ll be extremely thankful for it when we master getting rid of the unwanted actions and replace them with fulfilling habits.
Some of the strategies I’ve found to help:
Focus on the little things first.
If you want to wake earlier each morning, nail this habit then move onto something more challenging. The more success you have with little habits, the more willing you’ll be to actually try change those more challenging or deeply rooted habits.
Actually look at your brain and acknowledge your thoughts.
If your brain is telling you to do the thing you want to stop, be kind to yourself, approach with non-judgement and politely tell it no, that was the old me! You want to understand your thoughts, but you also need to remember thoughts are just thoughts. It’s not truth till you take action, so YOU decide what actions you want to take.
Understand effort is required and actively take part in changing.
You must be conscious. YOU must take control. Every time you catch yourself doing the undesired habit, be aware and replace the thought with more beneficial actions. If you want to cut down on drinking alcohol through the week, don’t buy it at the supermarket. If you have it in the house, hide it in a place where you won’t be tempted!
When the brain does resist, you need energy to overcome that resistance
Focus on your goal and plan to have success. The best way for this is to think in advance. You must plan how you’re going to change the habit. If your habit is to start exercising in the evening, have your exercise wear ready to go, don’t wait till you get home, are exhausted from work and want to just lay down because your lazy brain will go along with your thoughts and enjoy doing nothing.
In my opinion the biggest piece of advice is keeping to repeated patterns. REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT till it’s solid!
Give these a go if you’re trying to overcome something that is persistent in your routine. Remember there is no quick fix so you must put in the time and effort to see the results.