Most people probably don’t realize this (I didn’t until it was brought to my attention), but in fact, it’s actually proven that once a habit is set, your brain goes into “auto-mode” and carries out the actions almost without putting much of any effort into it; all your brain needs is something to trigger this sequence. This process is called “chunking” and scientists say that the brain does this in order to save time for more important tasks instead of putting so much effort into routine tasks such as brushing your teeth or driving a car, which makes sense. However, no matter how set your habits are, your habits CAN be changed. All it takes is a strategic restructuring of your brain, and you’ll be well on your way. It’s a lot easier to do this than you would think.
Here are a few tips to helping to change your habits, big or small:
1. Learn which cues trigger your habits—Habits always have a cue, routine, reward cycle. Your brain gets a cue to perform a certain task, to think a certain thought, or to feel a certain emotion, and it will act on this cue. It is important to find out what it is exactly that triggers this habit. Once you’ve found that out, you can work on changing it. For instance, say you’re trying to eat better. If you are used to going out to a restaurant with a certain friend and you always order a dessert after your meal, maybe you can suggest a different restaurant to break this habit cycle. At the new restaurant, you may not even think to order a dessert. Another option to this problem is to order a salad before your meal, that way once your meal comes you won’t eat as much because you’ll be full from more healthy foods.
2. Make a plan—Write it down. It’s good to keep a visual reminder of why you want to change your habits. Make sure you have good, strong and reasonable motivators, such as family, bettering your mental or physical health. You will also want to devise a plan. Pick a “Start Date” and tell your buddies or family in order to create an accountability system. Plan for obstacles and possible setbacks AND how you will overcome them. This way when you come across something to hold you up, you’ll already have an idea of how to handle it. You also will want to envision yourself once you’ve made these changes; what will be the benefits to your health, how will this put you ahead in life, who will be proud of you, who will you be helping other than yourself. Use these things as motivation to get it done!
3. When trying to change a habit, don’t overwhelm yourself—Focus changing on one thing at a time, that way you can devote more energy to figuring out just what your habits are, what triggers them, and what steps you need to take so you can change these habits. Also, START SMALL. One step at a time. And keep in mind a small step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction, so don’t sell yourself short. For example, if you’re planning to cut back on social media and spend more time with friends and family, a good start would be to turn your phone off for one hour every week. Even more so, once you build a rewards system for this habit (enjoying the quality time spent with family members), you’ll be more inclined to do it and will want to increase the occurrence of this new habit.
4. Keep it up!—Once you have set a new, better habit, great! Just make sure you take the necessary steps to keep doing it, and stay away from those things that will trigger old habits! That’s the last thing you'll want.
5. Most importantly (because we’re only human, so you can’t expect to get it right every time) if you fail, figure out where you went wrong and try again!—Don’t give up on yourself after you’ve tried and failed. It’s okay to fail! We all do at one point or another. But use this as an opportunity to see where you went wrong, what you could have done better, and what you will do the next time around. Then go for it! If you have enough motivation to change your habits, then you will. It’s all up to you. After all, who doesn’t want to be a better person?
The above article was written by Janiqua Dunn.