How to Transform Your Habits and Transform Your Life

Jul 6, 2022

This article provides imperative insight into the nature of habits, including a FREE comprehensive guide for easily transforming those that are holding you back (and they are more pervasive than you think!). At the same time, you will learn engaging new, supportive behaviours that can lift you to your greatest potential. Your time is now.

We all know that excessive smoking, alcohol, and junk food are bad for us, while cycling, morning green smoothies and brushing our teeth are good. Yet, have you noticed that even with the strongest will in the world, your knowledge seems effectively irrelevant when it comes to choosing your habits? Well, this is NOT because you are weak, incapable, or less perfect than the social media icons you measure yourself against. Rather, this is simply because some key facts about our psychology and the nature of habits are largely misunderstood.

The neuroscience of habits – 5 Home truths:

  1. What are Habits? More pervasive than we think!

Habits tend to be deemed as rehearsed behaviours controlled by the subconscious. In this regard, research from the University of Southern California, has shown that over 40% of our behaviours are automatically replicated EVERY day. Primarily, this is because they are driven by context, accounting for things like toast in the morning, a cigarette on the phone, buying popcorn at the cinema, having wine with dinner, etc. This is a lot of life we spend on auto-pilot. However, the story doesn’t end there. Namely, it is not simply our behaviours that become habituated.

The average person has between fifty and eighty thousand thoughts per day. According to research from Queens University, Canada these thoughts are not independent, but make up what has been coined, “thought worms”. In this regard, a familiar context will trigger not just a thought, but a repeated pattern of thoughts that will continue until a new stimulus breaks the loop. In other words, our thoughts are like deer trails, walked again and again over the same path until there is no grass, no sticks, no brush in the way. When unattended, our thought loops are automatic, unfettered and strengthened again and again. This is why, as determined by research at Stanford University, over 95% of our thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the day before!

Upon closer reflection, it becomes clear that habits are not just what we do or don’t do, but also how we think and, thus, feel and respond. Who you are and who you can become is inextricably linked with the habits you have formed and the habits you choose to retain. Change your habits, change your life.

  1. Habits are an inherent part of our physiology, developed for efficiency

Our brains are learning machines. So, when we experience something new through our senses OR we think a new thought, connections are made throughout our systems through a network of chemicals and electrical impulses. If the outcome of the links is positive, (ie it feels good, we feel safe, or we get what we want from our response) we will repeat it. If we repeat it enough, it becomes habituated. That is, mapped by our subconscious and automated.

Think about learning to drive a car. When you begin, driving takes all of your attention. However, once practiced enough, you can drive, have a chat and change the radio dial all at the same time. The same is true for our thoughts. We don’t approach a door handle, for example, with the need to process it every time. Through our experience, we have established thoughts linked to door handles that are now so automated we can use them, even if they are a new design we have never seen before.

And this capacity to automate repetitive experiences and thoughts is a highly efficient system. Primarily, our processing capacity is freed for more complex problem solving or evaluating new input. However, it is also our greatest hindrance because, unchecked, we map thought loops and automatic responses that hinder us from getting what we really want. Aside from the obvious harm from habits like smoking, driving too fast, and doughnuts for breakfast, consider also the routine self-degrading thoughts when you look in the mirror or have to give a presentation. And, what about meeting someone new? How you respond, judge or categorise is all a force of habit.

  1. Habits keep us recognisable to ourselves and, thus, grounded

I assume you have heard the proverb; the clothes make the man. Well, in a small way this is true. Clothes impact how we feel and, consequently, how we behave. Now consider always wearing something selected by someone else. Unless you got lucky and their style was a match, it would feel uncomfortable and take a long time to feel like the “new you”. That’s a simple, superficial aspect of our beings. Now imagine, the impact of changing ourselves from the inside-out.

Every thought has a direct impact on our physiology, releasing a range of neurotransmitters that communicate throughout our system, managing our hormones, emotions, and bodily functions. Therefore, as we habituate thoughts, we habituate our chemistry. Of course, our systems will tend to gravitate toward things that feel good (ie release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin) and, left to its own devices will generally choose chocolate over Circuit Training. However, the stronger driver to our systems, is not the positive emotion, but, instead, what feels normal.

When we feel like ourselves, we can be ourselves. We feel safe because, biologically, we can predict how we will respond in the world. Consequently, we will maintain habits that release the chemicals to which we have become most accustomed. For example, many of us become habituated to cortisol and adrenaline, perpetuating thought loops that generate stress or high-risk behaviours.

  1. Habits are pervasive because the mind likes what’s familiar and despises what’s unfamiliar.

We have huge receptors in our brains to connect us to sugar and salt and so, habituating chocolate is very easy. However, in order to like brussel sprouts we generally need to taste them over ten times. Essentially, your brain is determining that this bitter food isn’t deadly. In other words, the brain will reject what it thinks could kill you, until it is convinced otherwise.

The primary function of the brain is to keep us alive, full stop. Hence, it will only automate patterns that have seemed to serve us in some way. For example, eating chocolate and watching Netflix makes me feel safe and warm, so I repeat it. If I get the same results again, I repeat it again and soon it becomes a “thing I do”. However, our “gains” may not always seem so obvious.

For example, your boss calls. You think, “I’m in trouble”. You feel stress, then think, I’m going to lose my job and never find another because I’m not good enough. Your girlfriend calls. You think, “She wants to break up with me”. You feel stress, then think, I’m never going to find another person to love me because I’m not good enough. And essentially, this all began when you got a bad grade in primary school, was reprimanded at home, and laughed at by the class. In that moment you learned, “I’m not good enough” and then created stress for the next assignment, for which you got an A. Now your brain has learned, “I’m not good enough and stress and self-deprecation will force me to pay more attention, work harder, and stay attuned to potential rejection”.

  1. Neuroplasticity is your best friend

It was once believed that our brains were fixed at birth. We were seen as empty vessels, filled by our environment while the information was integrated into our systems based on our DNA. We now know that this is not true.

You are the commander of your Universe and learning is an active process that we can engage in for the entirety of our lives. You can create new neural networks of your own design and eradicate habits that are unhelpful, unhealthy and unwanted. It simply requires working with the brain rather than expecting to overcome it. We are commandeering a ship that believes it is on the right course, perfectly aligned for effortless sailing. But this is only because our brains don’t care about the nature of our experiences. Our brains don’t think, how can I make this life more joyful, more abundant, and more fulfilling for you? Rather, they think, how can I keep us going with the least amount of effort and change?

Yet, knowledge is your superpower. Understanding what is driving you, why your habits are so pervasive and that they are integral to not just what you do but how you think and how you feel, is the key to negotiating change. Awareness is always the first and most significant step towards transformation.

 Want your next steps? Click here for your FREE guide to habit change:

 https://www.jocelynbarrie.com/get-a-free-gift/

 This booklet provides deeper insight into the nature of habits while guiding you to recognise and easily transform your most destructive or unwanted habits into new impactful, supportive ones.

Click now and also receive the bonus appendix: The Top 5 Habits of Highly Successful People which will give you not just the what but also the why and how to integrate them into your own life today.

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