Be kind to your brain; resolve to build habits

by | Jan 5, 2015 | Blog | 0 comments

dead Christmas trees 2015-01-05“Have compassion for yourself and your brain,” one of my neuroscientist professors frequently counsels.

His advice is simultaneously soothing and inspiring.

The brain is an amazing organ; however, it does have its limits—especially the prefrontal cortex, also known as the executive function. It tires easily, can work on only one thing at a time (uni-task not multi-task) and has a small storage area for working memory.

To optimize your brain’s capabilities, you need to play to its strengths and avoid overtaxing it, as I continue to learn in my applied neuroscience program through the Neuroleadership Institute.

These lessons are especially useful this time of year when the media, blogosphere and everyone else are focused on New Year’s Resolutions, especially making resolutions that will stick.

While the pundits’ advice improves each year, it still isn’t as brain-friendly and supportive as it should be.

It isn’t enough to plan what resolutions you’re going to make and why you’re making them.

You also need to concentrate on how you’re going to do them. Specifically, you need to determine both the structure you will create and the process you will follow.

The problem with typical resolutions is that they’re just too vague for you and your brain to manage effectively. While it sounds noble to want to lose five pounds, manage your time better or get more sleep, it’s very hard to put into motion the right behaviors and keep them going, even if you are a physics/neuroscience whiz.

Instead, you need to define exactly what actions you will take and when, the frequency you’ll do the actions and how you’ll stay on track.

Without these details, your resolutions will fall like dead Christmas trees now piling up the sides of the roads waiting to be picked up for recycling.  

There is a much better alternative to resolutions—namely, habits. Habits are automatic behaviors that you do without thinking because they reside in your unconscious.

And even better, you can consciously learn the skill of building unconscious habits.

Three years ago, shortly after I became a certified brain-friendly coach through the NeuroLeadership Institute, I happened to take Dr. BJ Fogg’s new Tiny Habits® program. It teaches individuals how to build itsy-bitsy habits that propel you into motion without relying on willpower.

Ever since I learned the Tiny Habits® methodology, I stopped making resolutions and started creating habits to change my behavior.

Tiny Habits® are an amazingly simple and powerful way to change your behavior to solve problems you want to solve.

By making your first step very small, very specific and very easy and then anchoring it after another behavior you do, you exponentially increase your chances of doing what you say you will do.

Plus it feels good to have a small win, and even better when you acknowledge yourself for your success. These feel good moments cue the reward network in your brain, which then reinforces your brain to embed the new behavior and start rewiring to build the new habit.

Over time, which can be days or weeks depending on the habit and your brain, your new habit is stored in your unconscious, specifically your basal ganglia.

Because the habit is now automatic, you don’t need to expend energy or working memory from your prefrontal cortex to remember to do the behavior.

And that makes it easier to grow the habit into a bigger habit, assuming you follow the structure and process that works for you.

Tiny Habits® have transformed my life, as I recently wrote about in 3 tips for building new habits. Others have experienced the same thing. Have you ever heard anyone talk about New Year’s Resolutions this way?

Also, many of us have become so hooked that we’ve become coaches in the Tiny Habits® methodology.

So have some compassion for yourself and your brain and consider resolving to building  habits any time during the year.


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