Habits...how to train your brain
We all have habits and some of them are more helpful than others.
Habits form at a very young age. By age five we the most neurological pathways that we will ever have. We learn from the world around us from the moment we are born and through our lifetime. Behaviour is modeled by the humans around us, we hear language, read and watch and hear things in the media and in turn we begin to develop habits around how we react to ourselves and to others.
Habits are brain pathways. Pathways form in our brains when we repeat responses multiple times. The analogy that we use in workshops is this; imagine you walk through a grass field for the first time and there is no visible pathway at all, the second and third time you go through that same field you begin to notice that the grass has laid down and path is forming. After time you decide to put shingle down to make it easier to use, and eventually it is concreted because it is used so much, and it becomes your preferred and quickest route because it is so defined.
In essence, the more we use specific brain pathways the easier, quicker and more normal it is to go down them – these are our automatic responses to external stimuli (the things that happen around us.) The pathways we use least die off. Ever heard the phrase “Use it or loose it”? – that relates to brain pathways.
Habits can be changed. Habits include our responses to ourselves, others and situations and some of these responses are more useful than others. The good news is that we can re-train our brains, they are like playdoh and we can we can re-mould them. We can create new pathways and 'loose' the ones we don't like as much! To 'train our brain' we must first be conscious about what it is that we do or say that we want to shift away from.
Practice. I have had said to me in the wake of conflict “How did you keep your cool, you are better person than me?!” Of course, I am not a better person. The reason that I am able to keep my cool and have a different response (SOMETIMES I might add, no one can do things as well as they'd like to all of the time!) is because I have practiced; I have consciously tried to change my habits, my immediate reactions, that have formed through life. I know that it doesn't feel comfortable when I go down the old paths, plus the people around me don't feel comfortable either.
Changing a habit takes time and practice, it will not happen over night. You will need to be kind to yourself in the process of change. It is very likely that the habits in need of change will be how you talk to yourself, those internal narratives and stories about not being good enough and needing to do things differently. Once we have mastered those habits it is easier to work on how we habitually respond to those around us, at home, work and socially.
The first step to forming new habits. When you feel waves of uncomfortable emotions; anger, frustration, confusion, take a breath, think your response through and choose your words. Sometimes saying nothing is better than saying something that adds to the difficulty.
We can choose to loose the less useful pathways and insulate the best bits by repeating behaviours over and over again once we are conscious of the impact of habits on ourselves and others.
Give it a go...which habit do you want to loose?!