Daily routines are part of our lives, but some people’s lives are more structured by habits than others.
Everyone’s habits are patterned into sequences that are performed at particular times of the day — actions become incorporated into series of well-practised responses that reflect continuities in past experience.
Example, most people sleep and wake at regular times each day and develop morning and evening routines around behaviours such as meditation, exercising, eating, and watching television. The practice of these activities yields habits over time.
When the brain is forced to change these behaviours, it pushes back to maintain the same routines unless you want the new habits so bad that you force yourself to change — even though it ‘s hard.
“Repetition of behaviour in stable circumstances yields automaticity in responding as associations develop in memory among aspects of circumstances, behaviours, and goals that co-occur in time and space and that possess similar features,” according to the authors of the Habits Across the Lifespanresearch.
Learning new things and getting into new habits can be an amazing experience, but more often than not we hesitate — because it takes effort for our brains to build new routines.
Knowledge of the benefits of new habits is not the problem — taking action towards a new goal has always been the biggest obstacle in our way.
You know there is a lot to be gained from eating healthy, exercising, saving for retirement, taking a break, or making better social connections but you just can’t get yourself to start or maintain that important habit you so much desire. Why? I think about it a lot.
Sometimes, we find excuses to convince ourselves that we ok, and that nothing has to change — even though the potential gains are disproportionately large. People prefer not to deliberate.
They want to live on autopilot — which sometimes denies them the enjoyment of being present when they choose to learn something new. They feel secure because it’s the same thing they always do, no extra effort or thinking required. Difficult is the word we sometimes cling to so we don’t have to try what’s possible.
We’re wired to be wary of new experiences, says organizational behaviour researcher Keith Rollag, the author of What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations.
“From an evolutionary standpoint, trying new things, for much of human history, could have been dangerous,” he says. “Your performance can have a big impact on your status,” and status, in turn, affects our ability to get the resources we need. For our far-back ancestors, not looking dumb was an issue of survival.”
All of which means that “deep in our brains there’s a primaeval fear of looking bad, a fear of not performing as well as others,” Rollag explains.
For the past five years, I have conducted a few experiments in my personal life, in both small and big things — to find out what works for me. I have dropped some habits, embraced new ones, and I’m still experimenting. I believe there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different.
Here is what have learned — everything, absolutely everything, takes an effort in the beginning— there is always some degree of difficulty at the beginning before it gets easy.
When the same good choice is made over and over again, you get used to — especially if you choose something you enjoy doing. But not loving something new right away isn’t a sign that you’ve made a mistake. It’s part of being Sometimes enjoyment will come as the newness fades.
Waking up at 5 am didn’t work for me, no matter how much I wanted to get done. Today, I wake up at 7 am — that seems to work for me. I will try 6 am in the near future. I like the peace and quiet of writing in the early hours of the morning.
“Opening our minds to a new thing or a new way of thinking is often frightening because by definition it’s unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity often rings the alarm bell “danger — potentially unsafe,” writes Dr Alex Lickerman M.D.
Most challenges seem hard at first because you have to go through a learning process, which requires perseverance, desire, and a bigger purpose.
“Trying something new can be painful: I might not like what I get and must forgo something I already enjoy. That cost is immediate, while any benefits — even if they are large — will be enjoyed in a future that feels abstract and distant,” says Sendhil Mullainathan of The New York Times.
Sticking with an old habit is comforting, but you may be missing out on a new experience or habit that can make you better, or smarter.
Given that some new habits can improve your life, a more promising strategy is small steps. Aim for consistency. Don’t sprint your way into a new habit. You are more likely to give up if you can’t sustain it.
“Entire careers, entire life paths, are carved out by people dipping their baby toes into small ponds and suddenly discovering a love for something they had no idea would capture their imaginations,” says Dr Lickerman.
Take the learning approach — aim to enjoy the process, not just the outcome. Experiment and do more of what works just for you. Even if you failed to stick to it, you would have learned a new way that doesn’t work for you.
Growth requires we take new action first, whether it’s adopting a new attitude or a new way of thinking, or literally taking new action.
This article was originally published on Medium.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.