Do you know why you are the way you are? Why you do things the way you do?
It’s not just about willpower because willpower is like a muscle that you can overwork if you abuse it. It’s about an action that we take which produces results. If that action is repeated constantly, it ends up being something that the body can easily do without needing much concentration. The brain basically takes a vacation and the body just commits to the action. This is where the brain begins to accumulate programs that we internalize and it happens in the very beginning, literally.
For the first 4 or 5 years of our lives, we begin to constantly absorb so much information from the outside world because we are literally being programmed to understand the culture around us. Now, this isn’t necessarily all bad because in order for us to mingle in society, we need these programs. But this can also explain the reasons why it’s hard for us to break old habits and form new ones. It’s not impossible but it definitely will be a challenge at the beginning.
Because we have those paradigms in our minds, the thoughts we conceive will most likely want to coöperate with them. So which ideas can we build to change the paradigms that hinder our results and productivity? Well first we have to understand the nature of habits.
How are habits formed?
They are usually formed through repetition, as stated before. The repetition must be done for constantly until the task is performed without it needing to be thought of. What’s an example? Checking your phone when you hear the ringtone, washing the dishes after you eat, biting your nails when you are bored, twirling your pen while you are thinking about something, flushing the toilet after you use it, turning off the lights when you leave your home, etc.
Habits also stick easily when there is positive reinforcement. This is why sometimes we can’t stop the negative habits, because they release a neurotransmitter called dopamine which makes us feel ecstatic. So the brain is most likely suggesting that we need to find that rush of dopamine, even if that certain activity doesn’t seem as enjoyable as it was in the beginning.
Let’s see this in an example to get a clearer picture. Let’s say that your bad habit is that you browse on Facebook during work which distracts you from what you need to do immediately. What’s the trigger? Knowing that you need to do work so maybe you convince yourself that you “need” to first catch up with whatever is going on with your friends and in the world. Than the routine of scrolling the screen down on Facebook begins and you open more and more tabs about things that interest you, whether it’s a useful article or a video of a human playing with a puppy, you’re hooked and you don’t even realize it. And the reward is of course a good laugh and from the enjoyment you get the release of dopamine.
Now, how do we choose which habits are good and which habits are not good? Simple, if it interrupts the list of tasks that you must do or the overall result is actually eliminating any kind of positive progress, you need to make the conscious decision of being aware of it as much as possible! Then you either choose to not do it or replace it with a better habit.
Strategize: What exactly are you going to do?
Shape your path! When you know exactly what you’re going to do and have a defined motivation, it’s easier to do it. Saying “I know I gotta do this activity but it’s so hard” doesn’t help. If you are serious about removing the old habit, write down the question “why is this so easy do?” Why? Because you need to change the way you think about doing the habit if you want to commit to it. Write down the reasons why it’s easy and the benefits, this will increase your motivation which will strengthen the habit.
Another reason why it’s difficult to incorporate a new habit is probably because you’re not breaking it into small little tasks. This is especially true when you are trying to replace an old habit, you must start small so that it would seem ridiculous to not do something so simple and easy.
Going back to the example of being addicted to checking your Facebook news feed; if you know that you shouldn’t do it, instead of beating yourself up for doing it after the deed is done, make sure that for every time you are tempted to do it you take 5 deep breaths and read out loud the to do list that you must complete or why you need to complete it. If you don’t force yourself to refocus in the beginning, it will be impossible to install a new program again.
Related Post: Bribe your way to success
The key here is to create the tiny habit after an existing habit that always happens without fail, as psychologist and researcher, BJ Fogg, advises in his ‘TED talk video:
The best kind of challenge is the one where you can see progress. So make sure that you reward yourself by giving yourself a chance to do something that you enjoy, verbally expressing that you have completed something in a good tone (saying “woohoo”, or “awesome” are some simple examples), or even doing a little happy dance. This behaviour will contribute to helping your brain see that what you are beginning to incorporate is good. So once you mastered it with very little concentration, you can increase the difficulty just a little bit. Remember; keep it easy enough to make it seem ridiculous to not do it.
There are many habits that I’m sure we all need to adjust. For some it may be the addiction to drinking so much coffee, expressing negative comments when something bad happens in their life, not drinking enough water to eliminate the toxins in the body, depending on someone to make them feel better, etc.
Once you understand how habits are formed and that the negative ones don’t need to be permanent or even that new habits can be incorporated; the option to do it becomes easier. What’s the key to making it happen? It’s the commitment to continue to repeat it until you dominate it.