The habits that are part of our every day life, like cleaning our teeth, driving, making a cup of tea etc. are well trodden pathways in our brain that have become automatic. This enables us to do essential tasks through our day without thinking about it. These unconscious habits free up resources for our brains to carry out other more complex tasks, like solving problems and making decisions. What about forming new habits though? How do we ensure successful new automatic brain pathways?
We all have habits that we can do without, ahem, you know the ones I’m on about! Or maybe you want to adopt new healthier habits. Either way, there needs to be a change at the brain level, to make new pathways for forming new habits or make redundant unwanted habit pathways. Research has shown that 40% of what we do is determined by habits, not conscious decisions. So how do we overcome habits we don’t desire and build new ones that we do?
Just as a habit is formed from repeated actions or behaviours over time, so to a new habit can be formed with a repeated decision over time.
Let’s break that down:
- A habit is a decision repeated over time.
- Forming a new habit starts with a thought, then the emotion intensifies that thought, that informs action and finally belief.
Generally, people say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. This is sort of true. At 21 days an old habit you’re not wanting and a new habit you desire, (if you’re practicing the new habit daily) the two brain pathways are about the same. So you can still choose either path, you can go either way and this is when it can feel really hard to keep going with the new habit.
Neuroscience has found that it takes around 60 days when an old habit is shut down and a new habit becomes automatic; you get to that autopilot stage in your brain.
I know, it’s a long time and can feel overwhelming but here are some tips to success.
- The key is to decide every single day to do the new habit, narrow your focus one day at a time.
- Schedule the new habit into your daily diary, wake up every day and be the creator of your thoughts.
- Ask yourself ‘can I do this (new habit) TODAY?’ and don’t worry about tomorrow.
- You can choose whether it’s ‘hard’ or ‘easy’, you have the choice how to feel.
- Mark xxxxxx off on a calendar if it helps.
- Set your intentions for your day.
- Don’t think ‘I have to do this forever’ just think ‘I’m going to do this today’. One day at a time.
- And remember, your brain wants to do its best for you, it’s not against you.
Using the WOOP goals strategy, can also help you to overcome mind saboteurs and obstacles that can trip you up along the way. WOOP stands for wish, outcome, obstacle, plan. The premise is, once you’ve made goal and you’ve thought about the outcome, then you put in an ‘if-then’ plan for when obstacles come your way.
If a new habit you want to form is meditating every day for 10 minutes. This is the wish.
You think how this will enrich your life. How amazing you will feel, how accumulatively you will feel calmer and less reactionary. You’re feel more centred and in touch with you inner world. You’ll be making decisions based on an inner knowing rather than simply guessing. This is the outcome picture.
Then think about what might get in the way on a daily basis to stop you meditating; perceived time pressures, family demands, not feeling like it. These are the obstacles.
The if-then plan could be, if I feel like I haven’t got the time, then I will turn my phone on silent and that will trigger me to sit down for 10 minutes to meditate. If my family are being demanding, then I will calmly tell them I’m taking a 10 minute time out. If I don’t feel like meditating, then I will put on a favourite song and dance to it and then I will sit and meditate afterwards.
The if-then plan tricks your brain by triggering doing the habit that you want to form. 60 days of doing this and your new habit will be carved into your brain and feel much more automatic.
If you would like to chat through WOOP goal setting or need help in forming habits in your life, then please get in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also trial The Flo Club to help support you on your wellbeing journey The Flo Club