Habits are simple routine rewards patterns that save our brain’s effort.
Research indicates that 40% of what we do each day is based on unconscious decisions (habits).
Habits can be broken down into a three-step process: external cue, routine, and reward.
When learning and maintaining a habit occurs in the basal ganglia which is a part of our brain that can function even if the rest of the brain is damaged. This gives habits resilient power. This power means that even if you can overcome a bad habit, you are always at risk of falling back into it.
The reason why habits are so embedded into our activities is because they create craving. This comes as a result of neuro-associations which is the amount of pleasure or pain we associate to a situation in our nervous system.
The issue becomes that our brain does not exactly know what is good or bad in the long-term, so it wires you to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If we allow this wiring to occur, we unconsciously give in to bad habits that can destroy us. It is then up to us to override the autopilot software in our brains, and take conscious decisions by deciding what to link pain and pleasure to intelligently.
To change a habit, the trick is to respond to the craving and be prepared when it hits, but in a more empowering way. The habit needs to be replaced and we need to link up pain to the old habit, and pleasure to the new one.
If you smoke for example, you can do this by seeking leverage on yourself in the form of anticipating the pain you will most likely feel if you die too soon as a result of it. In most cases we are not concerned with our pain, but we might be concerned with the pain of others, so you could try imagining the pain your family would feel if you die as a result of this habit. You must do whatever it takes to find a strong enough reason why before replacing the destructive habit and replacing it with a more constructive one.
Another obstacle is beliefs. If we convince ourselves that we can’t change because this is just who we are. Then we are identifying ourselves with our habits and allowing our behaviors to define us. The reality is that we are not our behaviors, so therefore we are not defined by our habits. We are defined by our ability to make conscious decisions instead of automatic ones. This means that if you do not believe in the possibility of change, then it will never happen.
The antidote to all these issues is willpower. This is the ability to follow through with our decisions and can also be referred to as discipline. This too is a habit. People often think that willpower is just simply something that they don’t have, but the reality is that willpower is something that you build like a muscle when you take control and responsibility for your actions.
Being aware of our habits gives us more control. Companies take advantage of our habits in their marketing to manipulate us into buying things we do not even understand why they are needed.
We are responsible for our habits and we are responsible for changing them.
Related Blog Post – The Four Classes of Experience
Get the book: Charles Duhigg – The Power Of Habit