Save yourself time and frustration: learn how to break bad habits and to form new habits!
When you were born, you had about 86 billion neurons. That’s 86 billion nodes by which electrical signals (i.e., conscious and subconscious thought) could be transferred. Each day, signals get sent in particular directions, controlling your speech, your hand-eye coordination, your musicality…and just about everything else in your body.
As you repeat specific actions or patterns, like throwing a ball, or saying your name, the connections get stronger. It’s like a path in the middle of the woods: as you tread through the same routes over and over, they get more defined and distinct.
At the same time, your brain is pruning other connections that it’s deemed you don’t need. It’s in this period where things haven’t been pruned so much that makes kids so great at picking up new skills, like speaking a second language. They have so many connections in their brain that learning happens better and faster than it does in adults.
Why the brain lesson?
If you’re a longtime reader of this newsletter, you know that we talk a lot about habits. Habits are essentially those well-worn paths in our brains. We perform these actions automatically and without too much effort.
If you’re trying to change a habit, learn something new, or react differently in specific situations, it’s like you’re walking through a vast forest. You might make your way through it, but it’s dark, full of branches, and difficult to find your way.
The second time you find yourself there, you recognize a tree or two. You remember where that particularly treacherous ditch was.
The third time, you take a quicker pace. You start to leave markers that tell you which direction to go and which paths to avoid.
Each time gets easier and easier, you get faster and faster, and that path becomes more well worn.
Understanding this is key to forming new habits and breaking bad ones.
We want instant results.
We think that when it takes us a long time to learn something that we’re dumb.
We feel that if we’re 100% consistent with our new habits, we lack motivation or are otherwise deficient.
In truth? We’re playing out our biology. We’re foraging through paths unknown. And while the forest is dark, we’re building signposts to make a brighter future possible.
When you embark on a new habit, I ask you to have compassion for your brain that is trying to make a journey through a dark forest. I ask you to keep trying again and again to build the new habit. Know that you are laying down the foundations for a clear path, and help you brain out by removing yourself from situations or placing yourself in situations that make success easier.
Think back to a habit you’ve tried to give up or change in recent months. What was the process like? Did it get easier over time? What can you learn about your experience for another habit that you’d like to change? You can share your experience in the comments below or with other members of our Happy Healthy Human community in our private Facebook group. Your experience might bring you or someone else exactly the inspiration needed to take the next step. Thank you for sharing!
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.