Changing your mind, is fundamentally about changing your habits of thinking. And, who hasn’t had a few habits they want to change to improve their life? I know I have!
The good news is, you can change your mind. Thoughts and action can all change, and you can make the changes stick. First, you need to understand how habits work in your mind. Then you can work to develop new thought habits.
Let’s begin with the some context, most habits consist of three key components:
- Habits are typically unconscious thoughts or actions, which I will call “behaviors” moving forward.
- Over time the habits become hard wired with repetition.
- And, there are typical triggers in our environment that instigate the habit to kick in and take over.
The Science of Habit Changing.
We all have experienced some habits that make our lives better, such as a habit of brushing our teeth—running the gamut to habits that make our life less easy, such as a pattern of negative self-talk that overwhelms us.
One of the reasons that habits are so difficult to change is that your brain is a hungry machine when it is learning new things. So, your mind works very hard to learn new things well enough not to need massive brainpower. Once it’s learned something, your brain habituates that behavior, so it doesn’t take much energy to do the thing.
It’s the body’s way of conserving energy. It’s a little like why we turn off house lights in empty rooms. Nobody wants to spend money, i.e., “energy” on things we don’t need to. Your brain operates on the same philosophy.
Quick side note here, this is also why when you’re learning new things, you may find yourself tired and/or hungry. Brains need fuel to learn.
Several elements support our ability to change. First, you have to want whatever is on the other side of the habit. Second, you need to become aware of the new habit you want to begin. And third, there needs to be some sort of reward attached to the change.
Elements of Change.
The reward could be anything. Maybe the prize is losing weight or getting higher scores on your employee satisfaction surveys. If the goal is sleep, perhaps feeling rested or having more energy, or fewer days with bags under your eyes might be the prize. Really, the reward is anything that speaks to what you will get from accomplishing your goal.
There are several techniques that can support habit change. I personally like Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. At its core, Tiny Habits is about linking a well-established habit to a new one you want to foster. Take a habit that you like and that you do consistently and unconsciously, like brush your teeth, and then add a new one that you want to incorporate into your life. You are linking to a habit that you already do well.
Example of Habit Change in Action.
You decided you want to learn to meditate. Only you’re discovering it’s difficult to find the time, and as much as you want to meditate, you keep forgetting. So now, let’s take something you do effortlessly, like sit down on the toilet when you’re going to the bathroom. I know, I know, crazy example, yet, it’s something we all do.
Now link the new habit to the effortless habit. For instance, you might link sitting down on the toilet, with closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for two minutes.
The more you practice these two behaviors together, the faster the habit of breathing will form. Mostly because of your attention to creating a new repetitive pattern. The more you practice these 2-minute meditations, the faster you will create new wiring in your brain.
Time to Begin
Now that you have an understanding of thought and action habits and a framework for making sustainable changes in creating new ones, choose something simple and meaningful to you. Then map out how you will incorporate this new habit into your daily life. It can be life-changing.
Longer version of this article previously posted at LyssadeHart.com.