The Habit Jungle
Have you ever tried to form a new habit? You had motivated, determined, and even a little stubbornness. Yet somehow, you failed. Well, you’re not alone.
Habit formation has almost nothing to do with motivation, and everything to do with momentum.
No matter how pumped you are, unless you understand the rules of habit formation, chances are you will fail, over and over again.
Rules of the Jungle
Think of your brain as a giant jungle of wires (nerves). Every action (thought/behaviour) requires you to send a signal along a very specific pathway, traversing the jungle.
The exact path tells your brain what to do and how to do it. Now, your brain is actually rather clever. Each time you re-use a pathway, it takes note. The path soon starts to become wider, clearer and easier to travel along, just like it would in a jungle.
If you use the same pathway often enough, it becomes so easy to travel along you can do it without thinking – kinda like the way you sometimes drive all the way home from work, only to realise you haven’t really been paying attention.
This ‘autopilot mode’ is a brilliant mechanism by which our subconscious brain takes over some of our simple, repetitive tasks – to help save our conscious brain space for more important tasks – like imagining what it would be like to be a… whatever
This mechanism is how habits are formed. They start as simple pathways through the jungle, gradually becoming wider, until eventually, they are automated.
This explains one of the reasons habits are so hard to break –
Our subconscious brain is happy to trundle along without bothering to ask our conscious brain if we actually want to go down this specific path.
Another reason habits are virtually impossible to break is that the neural pathways are physical structures in our brains. Even if we don’t use a pathway for a reeeeaaally long time, it still exists. It may slowly become overgrown, but it’ll never disappear altogether.
The only way to convince ourselves not to travel down that old ‘bad habit’ pathway is to create a new, more enticing path right next to it.
So, rather than trying to quit drinking alcohol at night, you are much better off trying to drink something different, like tea.
The jungle also explains why new habits are so hard to form. At first, it takes a huge effort to hack our way through. And, we have to use the same pathway a bunch of times before a clear path starts to form.
Depending on the complexity of the behaviour, it is thought to take between 21 and 90 days to turn a behaviour into a habit. That’s a lot of hacking!
That brings us to the basic Rules of Habit Formation –
1. One Habit at a Time – don’t try to change your diet and exercise plan at the same time. Pick one and hack away until it becomes a habit, then move on to the other.
2. Account for the Activation Energy Phase – this is the minimum amount of effort it’ll take to a clear pathway. To continue the health n fitness analogy – you are better off seeing a personal trainer 4 days a week for the first 3 weeks, and then scale back, rather than just once a week for 12 weeks.
3. Use Keystone Habits – these are smaller, simpler behaviours that can help you find your way to the start of the pathway. For example, create a simpler habit of getting your gym clothes ready the night before. You can also set an alarm on your phone and put your gym clothes and phone (with alarm) on the far side of your bedroom. This’ll force you to actually get out of bed (rather than hitting snooze). This smaller habit makes the bigger habit (going to the gym) easier.
To discover the 6 Keystone Habits that form the foundations of your health, happiness, productivity, creativity, resilience and motivation – enquire about having Simply Psyched speak at your next work conference using the contact us form at the bottom of the homepage.