Habits are rituals and behaviors that we perform automatically, allowing us to carry out essential activities such as brushing our teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed for work, and following the same routes every day without thinking about them. Our unconscious habits free up resources for our brains to carry out other more complex tasks like solving problems or deciding what to make for dinner.
We all have habits and we activate hundreds every day. These habits can be divided into three groups. The first group are the habits that we simply don’t notice because they have been part of our lives forever—like tying shoelaces or brushing teeth. The second are habits that are good for us and which we work hard on establishing—like exercising, eating well or getting enough sleep. The final group are the habits that are bad for us—like smoking, procrastinating or overspending. But where are all these habits stored?
Research and Habits
Scientists have learned that a certain part of the brain called the basal ganglia plays a crucial role in creating new habits and maintaining existing ones, leading researchers to an understanding of why some people, even after major brain damage, will still do certain things they’ve always done before, like find their way home without any conscious previous recollection of where they are going. These people often don’t even know how or why they can still do certain things, but if the basal ganglia is intact, those old habits are still available. The latest research also shows that habits are so ingrained in our brains that we keep acting in accordance with them even when we no longer benefit from them.
Researchers from Duke University have shown that over 40% of what we do is determined not by decisions but by habits. This suggests that we can change a huge part of our lives just by eliminating bad habits and creating good ones instead. People who fully understand this have been able to find wonderful new ways to change their lives for the better.
The best way to change your bad habits is to directly replace them with new ones. When you create a habit, your brain creates new neurological pathways allowing you to more easily use those habits.
But why do people return to their old habits so often? It’s because the neural pathways established as a result of the habits we develop never get deleted. Those pathways are always there for us in case we need to go back and use those same routes again. Of course, this helps us in the many simple and automatic daily tasks we carry out such as walking, talking, running, and eating. We don’t need to stop and think about how to walk before we get up and do it! (Of course, this applies to the majority of us who are blessed and lucky enough to be able to do so easily). Since those existing pathways never get erased, the best way to change existing habits is to replace them with new ones.
About the author: Braco Pobric is the bestselling author and a founding member and Chief Happiness Officer of the Institute for Advanced Human Performance. He is Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Certified NLP Practitioner and former globally Certified Trainer and Coach for Dale Carnegie Training.Connect with Braco at: https://www.facebook.com/braco.pobric