The Art of Changing the Habits Of A Lifetime – part one

The art of changing the habits of a lifetime. Intelligenthq

Whether we like it or not, our lives depend on our habits. They might be good or bad, but without them our lives would be pretty unbearable, just for having to stop and think what on earth to do next. Take for example: do I go to work or pass? Or, what do I wear today? Skip breakfast, or not? And so on.

Often, we don’t even notice when a habit becomes a habit. We don’t stop scratching our head wondering why we go to work by the same route, day after day. We just do it, without thinking about it.

I actually believe this is a good thing: where would we be without our habits? But as I already said, some habits might not always be so good for us. Being a smoker for example, isn’t as good for you as doing regular exercise. But sometimes in reality it’s not easy to be sure of what is good for us or not. What might seem a good thing at a particular moment may not be so in different circumstances.

For better or for worse, old habits die hard. It’s not something we can easily change from one day to the next. How great that would be, if such habits were to our benefit, but how often is that the case?

So, replacing bad habits with good ones is the key. Doing so has long-term, immediate benefits, year after year. And for the record, a new habit makes everything we do a little bit easier also.

So, what can you hope to learn from this text, that will be published in three times?

  • how habits are formed;
  •  why having the best intentions won’t be enough to get you out of bad habits
  • two habit-altering strategies (the ’20-second’ Method and ‘Planning Ahead’).

The plan is that the two strategies presented here will help you to come up with better habits than the old, bad ones. And why should you try them both ? Firstly, they’re easy to follow, and you can gauge your results without any trouble. Secondly, there is sound scientific research behind them (go to the Recommended Reading to find out more). Thirdly, I can tell you from personal experience that they do indeed work. This won’t guarantee that they’ll work for you. But it’s a good start.

How are habits formed ? Intelligenthq

1. How are habits formed?

In the great scheme of things, habits are absolutely vital for our well-being. Otherwise, life would grind to a total halt. They get us through each day, and we can’t do a thing about it. It is therefore important to adopt routines that are better for us. They are our constant companion, whether we seek to improve them or not. Of course, we can only hope they have a more positive influence on our lives. So how can we describe in a nutshell how habits are formed?

Our brains are formidable ‘machines’, however we look at them. Each human brain weighs, on average, about 1.5 kilos, containing more than a trillion (1,000,000 million) cells, (for more information check out, for starters, the book Budda´s Brain by the physicians Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius). Each human brain usually contains more than 100 billion (100,000 million) neurones connected in endless ways.

Our brains account for roughly 2% of human body weight. However, since they are permanently in action they consume more than 20% of the glucose and oxygen we take in. It amounts to pretty much the same whether we are awake or asleep, which never ceases to amaze me.

How we perform tasks is the key to how our habits are formed. Whenever we are doing something, our neurones are busy creating or reinforcing more than 100 billion connections. Take Driving:  at first we know little or nothing about it.  It  is necessary to learn how to drive, so driving becomes an habit. It took a great amout of effort to do so. And yet, the more we do it, the easier driving becomes, to the point that by the end of a few weeks, and then years of practice,  we have no trouble being behind the wheel even when listening to music or having a conversation.

The same happens, for example, when learning a new language. Just think how slow our conversations would be if most of the time we took a few seconds to ponder what we were about to say. I bet you wish you did, more often than not (particularly whenever you’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time).

One way or another, we’re always developing new habits and abandoning others. New neuronal paths are constantly being forged, others are reinforced and yet more disappear. We can have a positive influence on the process, if we want. But beaware that whether you like it or not, in any case, processes of neuronal rewiring happen 24 hours a day, whether we do something about it or not!

We are creatures of habit, after all.

2. Willpower is not enough. Intelligenthq

2. Willpower is not enough

Breaking habits is an exercise of the mind over matter. We all need willpower, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, to make it happen. That said, willpower alone won’t be enough as a strategy for change.

Let’s imagine, dear reader, that you are a chocaholic looking to quit for a number of reasons (such as, chocolate gives you the runs and piles on the pounds). You stop eating chocolate just like that. And you know, it might even work… But let’s just suppose you live in a house with other chocaholics. And worse still, they leave chocolates all around the house. But you are pretty strong-willed and manage to resist temptation day after day. But will it be enough till the new habit (that of not wanting chocolates) kicks in? What are the odds of getting there?

I’ve got bad news for you. According to studies mentioned in the book The Happiness Advantage by professor Shawn Achor of Harvard University it probably won’t be enough. Of course there will always be exceptions where people do indeed make it.

So why is it so difficult to resist the temptation to scoff chocolates every day? Basically, our will is a resource that runs out of juice. The more we use it, the weaker our will becomes. For this reason, mind over matter alone won’t help you change the habits of a lifetime.

Of course, if it can run out, our will can also be recharged. Nonetheless, the most effective path to better habits is not through willpower. But I have good news for you: there alternatives besides willpower.

The Art Of Changing The Habits Of A Lifetime – part two
The Art Of Changing The Habits Of A Lifetime – part three