“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits” – William James 1892.
So what is a habit? One definition:
The choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.
The structure of a habit
You have a trigger for a behaviour and some type of reward. An example of this is when you are feeling tired (trigger), you reach for and eat the donut (behaviour) and a burst of sweet, sweet energy hits your system (reward).
Making life easy can sometimes work against you
Your unconscious mind is looking to make your life easier, and will automate repeated behaviours. Yes, habits are about being efficient. At this point it is worth mentioning the ‘Basal Ganglia’, situated at the base of the forebrain, which comprises a distributed set of brain structures. They are associated with a variety of functions including procedural learning, relating to routine behaviours or ‘habits’. Therefore they are thought to determine when to let a habit take over, i.e. when a chunk of behaviour either starts or ends.
This is a great system when it works in your favour, for example when you have been exercising for at least 3 months and at least 3 times a week, the Basel Ganglia kicks in and it becomes part of your routine.
However, it can work against you. Let’s take our example of exercising: when preparing to get ready and going to the gym becomes a protracted sequence of events which can be perceived to be just too much. E.g. you have to get the gym bag out of the cupboard, you have to open the gym bag, you have to put your trainers into the gym bag and you can’t find your water bottle, which means you have to go and buy one…………. it’s all way too much effort.
So what do we do when we want to change our habits? Let’s find out.
Key to changing eating habits
- Decide on what habit you want to change. If it is eating muffins (another word for cake) decide on what you want to replace it with, for example a banana
- Identify and be very clear about the trigger.
When does it happen? At what time? Where are you?
- Work on one trigger at a time
- Rehearse in your mind, over and over again, the new behaviour.
Act out the new behaviour, bearing in mind that it can take 30-40 days.
John “habits” Cassidy-Rice