Friday, June 22, 2012

Good Habits, Bad Habits - You're the Captain of Your Soul

"We are what we repeatedly do." - Aristotle

For a long time whenever I returned home, I put my keys, billfold and other carry-away items in a basket stored out of sight. Not long ago, I started leaving all this stuff in plain view on the kitchen counter. It made sense because it was easier to grab them when I was ready to leave the house. I've been doing this ever since, maybe two weeks now. If I don't change this pattern, before long it'll become a habit and I'll be doing it automatically.

Habit. Routine. Skill. Behavior pattern. Although these are different words, they all signify the same thing - an action that is done without deciding to do it. After many repetitions, the brain cells involved in the action wire together to form an efficient circuit. A conscious decision is no longer needed to execute the behavior.

Many authorities on behavior change say if you do something repeatedly for 30 days, it will become a habit. Actually, that's true, provided that...
  • The behavior pattern is relatively simple
  • You repeat the behavior consistently without fail
If you often forget and do something else, it will take longer.

If we're talking about a complex behavior pattern, it will take longer.

And if it takes longer, you'll need to be persistent. A long time ago, when I was trying to improve the way I listen, it took me two years to establish the listening habits I wanted. Whew!


I once knew this guy who picked his nose. Yuk! True...but that's not all. To make it simple to get rid of the booger, he would eat it. Gross! I've heard this nasty habit isn't so rare, but it gives me the creeps when I try to imagine the mindset of anyone who would actually do this.

The answer is simple. The guy probably started doing it as a little kid, created the habit, and never bothered to establish a better one. You know, like maybe blowing your nose into a tissue.

The lesson: Your brain doesn't care if the behavior pattern is a good one or a bad one. If you do something and keep on doing it, after a while, your brain will wire itself for the new habit. It's what the brain does. And remember - the brain doesn't have a delete key. The connections are physical. Once the neural pathway is established, it's permanent.

So try to be conscious of the habits you're creating. And...make your new habits good ones! Such as...
  • Acknowledging the people you encounter with a smile, a wave and a greeting...
  • Spending time with your best friends regularly...
  • Starting each day by working on your top priority for two hours...
  • Reading at least one good book every week
  • Eating a cup of blueberries with your cereal every morning...
You get the idea.

A couple more good articles about changing behavior patterns...

The No. 1 Thing You Need to Know about Personal Development

I Rewire My Brain - I Replace Another Bad Habit with a Good One

"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." From the poem "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .


Beth said...

Probably not a good idea to read this post while eating my cereal this morning, even if it does have blueberries on top!

Just kidding. Good stuff and I especially like the one about spending two hours each morning working on what's most important. If I don't do it then, it's unlikely to happen at all.

Chris said...

Great read, especially highlighting the conditions for forming a new habit in 30 days.

Perhaps with complex behaviour patterns, the secret is to focus on making the habit as simple and easy to do as possible.

I used to get drunk most times I started drinking. I wasn't proud of this and did try to change a few times but without much success. This continued for 25 years!

But the change come when I targeted one behaviour and that was learning to stop after one drink.

What made this so simple was that it was very specific i.e. easy to know that you have achieved this.

As most of my drinking was in the home, it was easy to modify the environment. I put a notice on my wine. It reminded me, why drinking only one as a great idea (forgeting was my main problem with being consistent).

So with complex behaviour perhaps our target should be targeting 'a behaviour' that simple to do but will (or is likely to) have an impact on the overall behaviour.

English Simplicity said...

Mini-behaviours - that might help young people with self-esteem problems.

In 'How to Talk to Anyone, 92 ....' Leil Lowndes said that one of the biggest way to change people's perceptions of you is 'proper posture'. She suggested that we should adjust our posture (straighten up) everytime we go through a door.

This is great advice but I didn't develop the habit when I read it because I simply didn't remember to do it consistently enough. But this advice can be formalised! Why not, five minutes (for 30 days) walk through doors and constantly adjust your body to a better posture. Kind of drill an automatic response into your self.

With very shy people - get them to look at a book and everytime, they see a person, they have to smile (or think of why this person would be great as a friend etc).

I don't know whether they would work (the door one did for me) but simple and highly repeatable actions couple with a target behaviour could be beneficial for a lot of people.

Chris said...

Sorry, i feel like I'm bombarding you here with commments.

I just find the article very interesting. On this link, is how I used BJ Fogg's habit change ideas to modified my drinking habit. How you heard of him?

I'll read your links now and hope some day you write more about the 'behaviours/practices' you used to become the listener you wanted to be.