The Quest for New Habits
In life we travel down many roads. Some we choose, while others are forced upon us.
Often we are so familiar with our routes that we forget we have options, alternate routes, different paths.
Our brain is wired to make routine easier for us. Once we have certain actions wired into daily activities our brains store that information for easy retrieval. For example, none of us tell ourselves to get out of bed and put our feet on the floor. The exception would be if we need to give ourselves a pep talk because we lack motivation to get out of bed. Our brains remember all those steps; getting out of bed, our hygiene rituals, going to and from work and most often our other daily tasks.
That means our brain is great at creating habits that we need. Unfortunately, that feature can also work against us. It causes us to develop ruts that hinder necessary change in behaviors, choices and actions.
We all seem to be on a quest for something greater and could use a little change in our lives; a break from routine habits. Perhaps like me, you think of a quest for a new habit as a treasure found in the great unknown. Maybe you need to land that new job or get a promotion. You may be like me, an entrepreneur, trying to teach my brain how to land new clients and build a viable business. The problem is, I’m not hard-wired to do this. I have to build new neural pathways, and new habits and that require discipline in order for me to be successful.
My brain may need a new super highway, but, for today, I need to be satisfied with a newly laid neural dirt trail. That is progress.
Why are these neural dirt pathways in our brain so important? They are important because life isn’t static. Life is ever changing and we simply need to adapt. We need to meet goals and expectations in our work and personal lives. How do we do this if we aren’t able to create new and improved pathways; new ways of solving problems? The good news is, science has proven that we can change our brains. Neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons, is exciting! That’s the good news, but, how do we build a neural super highway, or, in other words, a new routine or new habit that serves us well? Simply put, one neural dirt path at a time. The following outlines a series of steps you might implement to form a new habit:
Desire to Change a Bad Habit or Create a New One
Wanting to change is a big deal. It comes from within, and typically isn’t forced by an external party. We can be motivated by money, prestige and power, at least to some point. Typically, as a people, we are motivated when something impacts three key categories, health, social connections and money (money tends to lose its ability to keep us motivated) 1
Goals mean something different to all of us. Some of us may wish to travel, while others want to finish grad school. Regardless, of your goals, we can’t get there if we don’t spend time identifying where we currently are and where we would like to go. As an example, let’s say I wanted to add freelance writing to my business repertoire. How will I get there? I need a plan. I need goals and accountability for those goals.
Rewards are great ways to pay yourself for beginning to change a bad habit or creating a new one needed to achieve a goal. Perhaps you are motivated by a special present you purchase for yourself or maybe you prefer a nice dinner out on the town. Whatever the case, a reward system tends to keep us motivated and moving forward.
Self-Care and Grace
Change is hard. That’s why we all tend to slip back into old habits. When we slip, it’s best to recognize why we lost our footing and jump back on track. In other words, evaluate the setback in hopes of avoiding it in the future while simultaneously granting yourself grace. For instance, if you wish to exercise 3 times/week and you are only hitting the gym twice, set yourself up for success by revisiting steps 1–3 (Desire to Change; Goals; Reward System). Why do you want to increase your exercise regimen? Is your goal realistic at this point in your life? Have you established your reward system? Have you created a backup plan when barriers get in the way? Ask the hard questions, but, forgive yourself when life gets in the way.
Self-Care and grace go hand in hand. I think of self-care as ensuring you have enough sleep, a sound nutritional diet, exercise, and practice some sort of calming or taming of the mind, e.g. meditation. Each person’s self care looks a little different. Define what works for you and implement your best self-care plan.
Get Things Done — Daily goals lead to bigger achievements and ultimately your dreams
We all have goals and like to be moving in the right direction. We evaluate barriers and stage efforts to circumvent those obstacles. How can we stay on track? I believe we do so by establishing and executing daily goals. Some of our goals will repeat from day to day while others build on one another. First of all, put day to day goals in place, e.g. self-care, so that you can build on other goals that lead to your dreams. If you want to visit Fiji, then it’s obviously going to cost money. How much? When do you want to go? How long do you want to stay?
The Quest for new treasures, those new habits, are available to all of us. It will likely be an exciting adventure and any change requires work on your part. After all, building a new super highway in our brains, doesn’t happen overnight. The super highways of change start with one small dirt lane, a simple trail that represents one small change at a time. You will get dirty and paving a super highway takes a lot of dedication, but, the treasure at the end of the new route is well worth the sweat.