Mindfully using our brain to decide which habits to develop or discard can have a huge impact on efficiency, sense of self, and personal satisfaction. Simple concepts about brain biology can help us consciously set desired habits.
Habits, good or bad, run our daily routines. They allow us to do tasks automatically so the brain isn’t overwhelmed with attending to every small detail required to get us through the day.
What tasks do you do automatically without thinking?
Most people don’t have to think about how to lift a spoon to their mouth, say “Good Morning”, or ride a bike. That’s because they are routines that have been repeated frequently.
More complex habits are specialized, for instance, a violinist doesn’t have to think about how to hold the instrument or tighten the bow, a dancer can step-ball-change or grapevine without giving it a thought, and video game players are quick to interpret visual cues. In fact, everything we want to master has some action that can become automatic with practice.
Here’s my proven fail-safe method for locking-in desired habits.
- Explore a new behavior
- Formulate the habit
- Establish brain pathways
Explore a new behavior
First ask yourself, what it is that you want to achieve and why? Answering this question provides your mind with an overall purpose and supports motivation of the desired outcome. Make sure what you want to achieve poses an appropriate challenge, if it’s easy then you will probably lose interest and if it’s too distant in the future you lose perspective. Instead of saying I’d like to become a professional athlete you might start with something more quickly attainable like I’d like to improve my pitching speed. Instead of saying I’d like to become a better pianist, start with I’d like to have more automatic finger motions or become better at reading notes quickly.
As you explore your desired behavior do some research about how others have set out to achieve a similar outcome. Talk with people who have done it, search the internet, and read biographies.Try out a few methods to see what fits best with your personality and interests. Make sure that this new habit leads you to the desired outcome that you really want.
Formulate the Habit
Clarify the process that you will repeat. For example if you want to improve your pitching speed then you might want to hire a coach or teacher who can help you strengthen appropriate muscles groups, establish timing for the snap of your wrist, develop an efficient grip on the ball and support any other element in the sequence used to put power behind your pitch. You won’t be pitching faster at first but you will build the elements that will make your pitch faster once the habit is fully established.
Old habits never die, or in other words, established pathways are with you for the long term. At this step, it is easy to learn and then practice a process that does not efficiently get you to the outcome that you want. So taking the time to insure the process you use is an efficient one that leads to your desired outcome is well worth it. Football player and coach Vince Lombardi summarized it this way “Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect.”
Establish Brain Pathways
Monitor your progress and compare it to your desired outcomes. During the first few weeks be ready to make small course corrections to perfect your new habit. Be as consistent as you can by exercising your new skill daily.
Habits are formed in the brain as pathways, where millions of tiny cells connect through chemical interactions. The more we do a task the more these cells interact in groups and subsequently the task becomes easier. More complex tasks tend to recruit more neural groups and can span a variety of areas across the cortex. This basic process forms pathways in the brain that leads to automatic initiation of the sequence of steps required to perform the action.
Plan on set-backs, as you develop new habits there are bound to be setbacks. The physical nature of our brain needs time to develop and thrives on encouragement. When set-backs occur be patient with yourself and know that tomorrow is a new day.
Quick Summary: Why it works.
- Our brains respond to purpose. Define a clear idea of what you want.
- When we repeat an action in the same way every time groups of neurons interact together to form a neural pathway.
- Over time and with repeated practice the action becomes automatic.
- Multiple small actions can be used together to accomplish larger tasks.
- Being over-critical with ourself is usually counter productive.