HABITS: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT WILLPOWER
Contrary to what many people think, changing habits involves more than just willpower. Blaming or crediting willpower for our ability to adopt a new or break an old habit is unfair.
According to neuroscientists, the brain’s basal ganglia control habit formation. The basal ganglia are associated with subconscious or unconscious processes. When we perform an action over and over, it becomes deeply embedded in our brains. As a result, it takes significantly less effort to repeat that action than it would to choose a new one.
Changing habits requires us to make a conscious decision, a process performed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In order to change the way we do things, we need to be mindful, making conscious decisions and efforts (“willpower”) until the basal ganglia take over and we can focus on other things.
Once you repeat a pattern of behavior without conscious thought, you’ve created a new habit, which is now etched in your neural pathway. Willpower no longer enters into the equation.
ESTABLISH GOOD HABITS
When thinking about changing habits, we often focus on getting rid of our bad habits. Rarely do we think about good habits. But we easily can incorporate good habits into our life.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE: Every night as I would set my alarm for morning, I would think about what time I would meet my first client and then move backward from there. ‘What time should I leave? What if there is traffic? If it’s snowing it may be worse … maybe I should leave earlier. How late can I get up and still make it on time? I may want to stop and get coffee … Will I have enough time? I want to have 20 minutes of mindful focus in the office before my client arrives.
Then one day I decided to create a new habit. The reward of doing this routine day after day has allowed me much more mindfulness and peace.
Every morning, I leave my house at least one hour before I meet with my first client, NO MATTER WHAT! No matter what happens, I have plenty of time and less stress. The peace I feel is fabulous.
If you continue to do what you always have done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten. So why make a new, positive habit? For the reason just listed in the example….for you! New, positive habits can help make your life easier and lessen the daily stress.