How to form a new habit: and change an old one.
By: Jennifer Seip, LMFT, MA
Take a moment and think about the first time you drove to a place where you had never been before. How did you get there? Did you use a map or follow your GPS? Did you have to pay attention to road signs and landmarks? Most likely, your answer to this question is yes.
Likewise, think about the most recent time you traveled to that same place. Was it easier? Were you still paying as close attention to those signs as you did the first time? Or, did you have to pay attention at all?
If this feeling of being on autopilot is familiar. Have you ever wondered why it happens?
To sum up, as our brains become more and more familiar with a particular behavior, something strange happens. That behavior becomes mostly automatic.
What happens to the brain as it forms a new habit?
Think of your brain as computer or a smart phone. The more you search for a particular subject online or use a certain word when texting, the more often your device will recognize what you are typing. Then it will auto-correct. Sometimes this is nice, and other times it’s annoying.
Similarly, our brains work the same way with habits. The more often we repeat something, the more times our brain will recognize what we want before we’ve finished our task.
However, this becomes challenging when our own auto-correct system writes down the wrong word, or fails to do the task that we originally wanted to accomplish.
Why are habits formed?
In short, habits are the human brains way of saving space. If we didn’t have habits, our brains would be on overdrive. Eventually we would fill up with too much information and crash, similar to a computer.
How To Create New Habits
Studies show that the people who are most successful at overcoming bad habits have a few things in common. These are: Self Efficacy, Action Planning, and Satisfaction.
Self- Efficacy is the belief that something can be done. For example, someone might say “I believe that I can make my bed every day!”
Action Planning, is having a system in place to stick to every day. Furthermore, if you are having difficulty maintaining a new habit, it is the individuals who continuously plan their activities who are more successful.
Satisfaction is continuing to see positive results.
Finally, once a new behavior is implemented, it must be repeated frequently. As this occurs gradually, the changed behavior will become more automated.
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