“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Most people don’t live up to their full potential because their fear of failing. They are willing to allow fear to direct their future instead of taking full control on their actions and just going for it. Most importantly it’s time to stop avoiding making a decision on what to do because sitting there doing nothing, IS a decision in itself.
Do you remember the last time you were in a meeting and someone said: “We’re going to make this decision before we leave the room” How great did that feel? Didn’t you just want to hug that person?
The fine line between success and failure depends upon the decisions we make, those we choose not to make, and how quickly and effectively we make them — every moment of every day.
Studies show that 40 percent of your actions are not conscious decisions but habits. So habits are a big part of your life – and a lot of the time you don’t even notice it! According to neuroscientist David Eagleman: “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.”
So what is a habit?
Habits are our brain’s way of increasing its efficiency. Our brain turns daily actions and behaviors into habits, the collection of behaviors that could be as simple as having coffee when we wake up or as complicated as running away from problems when they come. These habits did not happen overnight; we adapted them little by little into our lives, until they became second nature.
Do you remember the first time you did something new? Driving a car or exercising…etc. It required a lot of your concentration and brainpower. But as you repeatedly do them, it became easier. This process is called “chunking” – and it is the root of habits. Every day, we rely on these “chunks” of behavior unconsciously.
An example of establishing a habit is brushing your teeth. When someone says, “It just doesn’t come naturally to me to exercise/be on time/keep my home organised, but I wish I could!” I counter by explaining that none of us are born with a natural propensity to brush our teeth, either–but we all learn to do it, and we do it every day–even twice a day. While there may be occasions when you think “I’m just too tired to brush my teeth,” chances are you do it anyway. And if you do skip, you get back on track pretty soon. That’s because you were taught this habit long ago and you do it without thinking–you don’t make a daily decision about whether you should brush your teeth, you just do it.
So how do we turn our decisions into habits just like brushing your teeth?
To be able to do that, we have to understand how habits form. The core of every habit is a simple 3-step loop:
- Cue – is any trigger that tells your brain when and which habit to use.
- Routine – is an activity, emotion or behaviour.
- Reward – is how your brain determines if a loop is beneficial to you or not.
For example: Cue – You’re feeling sad. Routine – You grab an ice-cream. Reward – You feel relaxed and happy.
The cue and the reward have a very strong influence in creating habits. It’s the cause of cravings and makes you repeat behaviours or actions. But you eating ice-cream can turn you into an addict, if you do it often enough. So, let’s say you want to change that habit, what would you need to do?
If you only focused on changing the routine, like stop eating ice-cream, you will be unhappy. Your brain will think that the loop doesn’t work, and it will reinforce your sweet eating habit. Our brain demands fulfilment and satisfaction. To be able to change a negative habit, you have to replace the routine in the loop with something else – which will also give you the same reward.
Instead of grabbing an ice-cream when you feel sad, try going for a walk or watching a good movie or calling a close friend or having a piece of fruit. These activities will offer the same reward – you will feel relaxed afterwards. Your brain will think that this particular loop works. As you do it more often, and experience the same reward, it will replace the loop where you reach for an ice-cream when you get sad.
Remember you are the captain of your ship. You have the power to take control of the processes that takes place in your brain. Now that you know that your brain is just following your lead, and doing what it thinks is good for you, go ahead and re-program it.