We’re All Creatures of Habit
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Why are habits so important?
We’re all creatures of habit, and its estimated that over 40% of our daily activities are habits. What we eat, how we communicate and essentially how we live our lives minute to minute are based around habits. And these behavioural patterns are etched into our neural pathways.
How habits are made
Habits form through associative learning, which means that we learn to form connections between different activities. These connections become patterns of behaviors. Ta da!
But wait, there’s more
So, we have two minds: the intentional and the habitual. The former is aware and makes conscious decisions, while the latter operates almost completely outside of awareness and is guided by cues. As our habits take over, neural activity shifts from working memory to cue-response association -- shifting from the intentional mind to the habitual mind.
Can I change a habit?
Yes! Here’s how:
Disrupt: just like the claims made by the latest direct-to-consumer brand to hit the market ;), you’ve got to disrupt existing habits. How? By disrupting habit cues. For example, if your goal is to eat better, rearrange your fridge so that the kale is front and centre.
Repeat: it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make a new habit effortless and automatic. So try something new, and then keep doing it!
Create new context cues to trigger new habits: if you connect the new thing you want to do to something you already do, your brain will automatically lead you from one activity to another.
Personal tip: I've got a recurring calendar invite to meditate to help create a daily habit.
So the next time someone says you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you can politely interrupt them with this research and confirm that new tricks can indeed be taught! To dogs and people of all ages.
FOR THE NERDY: Ch-ch-ch-changes [source: Psychology Today, 3 Steps For Changing Any Habit]