The Science of Habit

I was having an interesting conversation the other day with a colleague and friend about habits and how we break them/create new ones. The nuts and bolts of this conversation stemmed from something interesting (if a bit science-y and hard for my brain to wrap itself round).

Bear with me and I’ll explain.

When we learn something new, such as riding a bike or swimming, we suck at it. The reason we suck is of course because we’ve never done it before and need to learn. Through practice and perseverance we slowly figure out how it’s done until we are proficient at doing that task.

Whilst we’re learning these new skills our brain is busy firing synapses left, right and centre. What I basically mean by this is that our brain sends a signal to another part of our brain telling us to move in a certain way (like getting your feet to turn the pedals or steer the handlebars). When that signal is sent from one part of the brain to another a little lightning bolt connects the two, just for a nanosecond.

*Let me just pause for a second and clarify that I know very little about science. I got a C at GCSE and I think that was mainly fluke. But stay with me here, there is logic in this, even if the science knowledge is poor!*

Ok, so we’ve got our two little synapses firing and a lightning bolt going between them. Every time this happens the link between the two synapses gets stronger. It strengthens until it’s almost as if it’s covered in cement. Once it reaches this point it cannot be broken. You cannot un-learn how to ride a bike. You’ll never forget how it’s done once you’ve learnt.

Now we get to the reason why I’m giving you a poor science lesson. This whole analogy of synapses firing and lighting bolts and cement works the same way for habits. If you keep doing something over and over again it will eventually become a habit. Once that habit has been formed it is almost impossible to break it.

The trick here is not to try and break the habit, as that is a tough task. What you need to do is try and form a new habit.

If you’ve formed a habit of talking to yourself negatively, try to start developing a new habit of talking to yourself positively. Every time your inner critic spouts negativity towards you, pause, breathe and then nurture yourself with some positive words. Start talking to yourself as you would talk to a friend. Support yourself. Love yourself.

Yes, it will be bloody hard at first, just like learning to ride a bike was. You’re trying to form a new habit that will become as strong as the negative ones you’ve created for yourself. It will take time and effort. You will slip up. It will take perseverance. But it can make a huge difference to your mindset.

And why is it important to take control of your mindset?

Because once you’ve mastered your mindset you can face almost anything the world throws at you. Challenges? Bring them on. Sudden changes? Ready and waiting. Disappointment? Not a worry.

Positive habits attract positive progress. And we all want to move forwards, right?