With the new year lurking around the corner, it is only a matter of time before we start thinking about new year’s resolutions. And with resolutions comes the quick realization that follow through is harder than we imagined. Most of us don’t follow through on our resolutions, no matter how well intentioned we are. Why is that? Are we unable to change our habits? Are those habits, like smoking, overeating, disorganization, tardiness, etc. that we’ve engaged in for 5, 10, 20+ years just too hard to change? Why does it seem like its only possible for the rare few to add new habits like exercising, keeping organized, or thinking positively?
There’s a slew of new research showing that certain areas of our brains play a pivotal role in our habit formation and the difficulty in ignoring, replacing, or changing habits. What’s important is that is is ENTIRELY possible to replace, change, or ignore habits once you understand the basics of habits and the role our brain plays. At every moment, our brains are processing what we see, feel, think, hear, smell, and taste. As I sit here typing, my sensory receptors are processing the feel of the keys on my fingers, the sound of the airplane passing by, the murmur of the TV, the light waves of my computer screen and various items within my vision, the things I am thinking as I type, and the smell of dinner that is lingering, just to name the obvious, then sending that information to my brain for further processing. In order for our brain to not overload, it focuses less on things that are labeled unimportant (like the TV, anything in my vision scope that is not the computer screen, and the random sounds that don’t contribute to my writing of this blog). When we engage in a habit, our brain stops fully engaging in the decision making process and puts its attention on more important tasks. This explains why it is so hard to stop a habit-we don’t fully focus on our habits.
Some habits are required in order to not drive ourselves crazy. Think about your day. Did you think about whether to shower before brushing your teeth or vice versa? Did you decide on putting your left or right shoe on first, or did you just do it? If you paid attention, you’ll see that you have tons of habits that keep you running efficiently.
But what about those habits that are getting in the way of living the life you want or the ones that you want to add? Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, suggests that the secret to habits is craving the reward of engaging in a behavior. This means, for example, that if you want to add the habit of exercising, to form that habit you would come up with a reward, like a gift for yourself at the end of each month of consistent workouts or the reward of a small chocolate or tv show at the end of the night. The key is that the reward needs to be something of value to you, because how behaviors become habits is through the craving of the reward. Interesting, right?! We focus so hard on the habit itself, when research shows that when we focus only on changing, adding, or modifying our habits it is easy to become unmotivated. Instead, focus on the reward you set for yourself for engaging in a habit, and reap the rewards (1. the reward itself 2. the success of forming a habit!).
So what habits are you ready to focus on?
Suggested reading: The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg