Listening to a podcast for health coaches I heard a very interesting sentence that got me digging the topic : 95% of our daily actions are habits. Pure habit. Unconscious mechanical action. Only 5% of our decisions and actions come from your conscious mind.
What does this means ? Well most of what you do, say and think during the day is the result of your subconscious mind. You do things per habit, without even thinking about it and you go on for years.
Don’t you think it’s terrifying ? It’s means we are acting like a robot 95% of the time. Letting our social and family conditioning dictate your life without knowing it.
Why habits dictate our life
It comes initially from a natural instinct of protection and survival.
Your brain has the greatest ability to transform every single possible thing into a routine to save energy and minimize the risks for you. This neurological reaction is necessary to our survival but can also work against us when we have a bad habit.
It’s during our first years of life that our brain is very moldable and tries many different things. With time it become less and less moldable and changes are way harder to make.
Also the human body is pretty amazing because every time you follow one of your habits, your brain “gives you a treat” by providing you its own natural hormonal goodies. We get addicted to this sensation, it’s harder to resist the temptation and feeling, and so, change a habit.
How it happens ? When you do something for the first time, you cortex side receives the information. After a couple of repetitions like that, the behavior becomes a routine and the information go deeper into the brain (in the ganglions). There, they are recorded as fixed processes and can’t be erased.It’s for this reason that change an old habit is one of the hardest thing in the world to do.
When you try to do so the craziest thing happen: your brain is going to fight you. Yes, your own brain. You have to really force “against him” the new habit and fight the rational ideas that will pop up in your mind.
Why is it so hard to change my habits
As we mentioned earlier, you have to fight your own brain, something imprinted in yourself. This is (a very famous expression these days) stepping out of your comfort zone.
And it’s freaking hard, it goes against what we want and feel good with : being comfortable. Every time you try to change a habit and do something new it’s hard, it feels weird and annoying, you feel hesitant and it can even be painful.
Let’s take one of the easiest example: when you start working out.
The first day you go because you are motivated, but the day after you are sore everywhere. That’s not okay with you : you wanted to exercise for pleasure not to suffer.
So you think “this is too much for me, I just wanted to get in shape. It’s easier and more pleasant to spend time with my friends or watching TV”. And you stop trying to work out after a couple of days.
Same thing happens when you try to stop smoking or start dieting: it creates an unpleasant sensation in your body that you won’t like. It takes discipline and organization to pass this unpleasant feeling until you get to the point where the new habit is implanted.
Focusing on “how to do it” can be extremely paralyzing : you visualize the difficulties, fear takes over, you start procrastinating and just give up without trying.
Which is why you have to focus on your “why”. Why do you want to start exercising, quit smoking, read a book per month, etc…
When you feel aligned with your why, find a new method to implement to actually work progressively towards your “why”. Then you develop slowly a new habit attached to it.
How to switch from bad to good habits
I don’t like to label things “good” or “bad” because it brings a negative and guilty connotation to the topic. So let’s give another formulation to this: define which habits you want to change, why and how.
The powerful aspect of your habits is that you do them mechanically. It means your daily actions can really allow you to accomplish amazing things or huge disasters (to yourself and to others). With this perspective, a good habit brings you closer to your goal, a bad one takes you away from it.
Take time to list your principal habits, the things you do every day, every week. Write as most as you can and after a while, write next to each one if it’s serve or work against your goal. For your “bad habits”, develop and write down what it is not serving you and what you could do instead to achieve your goal. It will be easier for you after that do determine your plan of action: you can decide to eliminate a habit or reduce it slowly step by step (sometimes it’s easier).
Anyway, keep in mind that you new strategy and habits are going to take time to work. It’s going to be painful, long and you are going to want to give up many time. Remember your strong why. It will make you keep going.
And the only way to make it work is to keep doing it, repetition, repetition, repetition.
4 Tips to help you change your habits
- Be conscious of what’s happening, observe what’s your mind is doing: what are you thinking and why.
- Don’t act: don’t stop running or eat this entire cake. Take a step back, listen to your mind but don’t do what it says to you.
- Let the temporary discomfort pass: you are hungry or tired but it’s not going to last.
- Actively talk with your mind and argue sainly ! eat this cake it’s good = yeah its good for a minute and then I get fat and I am unhappy. So no we are not eating that.
Habits and goals
You can’t talk about one without the other, they are related, they evolve with time and your efforts. It’s good to review your habits and your goals on a regular basis, for example once every month.
First it allows you to review your goals: are you still on them or do you want to make some changes. Depending on your answer, then you adjust your habits.
If you still have the same goal to reach but you see that your current habits don’t get you anywhere with it, it’s time to think about a new habit strategy.
Changing a bad habit is always really hard, we like our comfort. But it’s easier to change a recent bad habit than one we have for years. As usual the hardest part is to fight the comfort we seek and like to actually progress.
The beauty of the process? You are going to be on it your all life. If you stopped trying you can get back on it, life is a journey and you have multiple occasions to change the parameters of it.