What is the first thing you do when you wake up? You most probably reach out for your smart phone! Or you close your eyes and pray, or you get up and switch on the kettle for a cup of coffee to kick-start your day. Whatever it is, we all do things repetitively, and are sometimes even unaware that we are doing them. These automated actions are our habits. Habits drive our lives and help us get through the day. Actually, research shows that about 45% of our daily activity is decided by habits. The theme for April is Healthy habits. In this edition we will unpack what is a habit.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines a habit as: “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it”. Habits are preset behaviors that have been literally wired into our brains through repetition. If we do something enough times, we become effortlessly good at it, which is perhaps why the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle reportedly believed that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” We as humans are intellectual beings, and therefore have the ability to adjust our habits according to our liking. But let me warn you that however good your new habit may be, do expect unpleasant effects in the process. That’s why you need to break an egg to make an omelette!
What happens in the brain when we learn a new habit? Neuroscientists believe that the basal ganglia, a group of structures in the brain, play a crucial role in habit formation. The ultimate effect is for a habit to create a “path” in the brain. The longer we act or think in the same direction, the more that path gets worn into our brain, until it eventually becomes an automated action. When we first engage in a new task or a new decision, the brain requires a lot of energy to process the new information. This explains why the brain saves energy by automating behavior that’s been repeated over and over again. The problem is, the brain doesn’t know the difference between good or bad habits, and once a routine is sorted into the “automatic” category, it’s hard to get it back out. So the best way to stop a bad habit is to never begin it.
It is widely believed that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. This number was allegedly established around the 1960’s by Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients took about 21 days to get used to their new faces. However, further research showed the average number of days required to form a habit is in fact 66 days. No wonder bad habits are difficult to break, because they don’t form overnight. Experts equally agree that there’s no typical time frame for breaking a habit, and the right recipe may require a mix of personality, motivation, circumstances, and the habit in question. Why would we choose to break a habit? John Maxwell, renowned leadership maestro believes that if habits don’t line up with our dream, then we either need to change the habit or the dream. The take-away message here is that if you want to develop a new habit, it will take at least two months.
Is there a new habit you would like to learn? Or a bad one you want to break? You may want to make a note of it, because in the next edition we will discuss the habit loop. I’m leaving you with the following quote by William Thackeray:
“Successful people are not born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things that unsuccessful people do not like to do.”
New Era Reporter
2019-04-01 10:22:45 | 10 months ago