Do you ever feel stuck? Like you’re wading through wet cement just trying to move ahead in your journey? Congratulations. You’re not alone. We’ve all been there. Some of us still are. So how do you get unstuck? How do you actually change? Ironically, the thing that got you stuck in that cement is the same thing that will get you out: habits.
The basal ganglia in the brain is wired to latch onto habits. It helps us conserve energy. When we can do something automatically, by habit, we can use other parts of our brain to do other, useful things. Think about your morning routine: get up (this might include hitting snooze 17 times), take a shower, get dressed, have some breakfast. When was the last time you thought about how you shower? Or how you button your shirt? You don’t. When you were four years old, buttoning your shirt seemed next to impossible. Now it’s a habit. Aren’t you glad you don’t need that much brain power for simple tasks now?
The brain’s affinity for habits is helpful, but it can also hurt. It doesn’t really discriminate. Anything you do repeatedly can form a habit, especially those (often negative) things with immediate gratification. This can range from a serious issue, like substance abuse, to something silly, like hitting that snooze button. Still, those early morning naps can soak up alot of valuable time.
So fight fire with fire. Your ability to form positive habits is your greatest weapon against negative ones.
For example, instead of fighting sleep with that snooze button, plan an activity first thing in the morning, like prayer, exercise, or practice (you know you want to learn to play guitar, cool kid). You might have a bad habit of unhealthy eating. Instead of simply abstaining from that donut in the break room, known to be one of humanity’s greatest feats, eat something healthy.
What? Ew. Jogging instead of sleep? Celery over donuts? Yes. It might sound gross now, but that’s only because your basal ganglia is programmed to go for the donut. You need to reprogram it, and the only way to do so is with another habit.
A 2009 study by University College London found that the average habit forms over 66 days. That explains the “March Division” you might notice at the gym— by month 3, that New Year’s Resolution is either given up or carried through. It’s rare to see someone quit an exercise plan after 6 months.
You must view a life change not as a one-time turning point, but as day one of a habit. Deciding to change isn’t a magic bullet. You need a plan.
Friends, it’s going to suck. At first. Your basal ganglia is going to fight you, trying to get you to revert to your old habits. Break it like a horse. After a couple of months, it will be on your side. You’ll feel the reward of getting up early, of choosing the healthy snack. And once that positive habit is formed, it will be just as tough to break as the old donut habit.
Form those positive, constructive, healthy habits, and get unstuck!