Last week, we talked about why change can be so hard. It’s difficult because it’s actually hard-wired into our neurology.
Does that mean we should give up on bettering ourselves? Abandon our goals shy of meeting them because it doesn’t seem like success is possible?
OF COURSE NOT! We are not prisoners of our habits.
Just because change is hard and most definitely uncomfortable, there are a few things you can do to make it a bit easier on yourself. Once you understand that neuroscience is behind the formation of habits, then it becomes possible to “hack” the system to create your desired outcome.
- Use your prefrontal cortex – the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that plays a large part in planning, organizing, impulse control and personality development. It is the last portion of the brain to fully develop, which is the reason why children aren’t able to make the same complex plans and decisions that adults can. Changing habits starts with acknowledging the mindlessness of them; many of our habits are responses that have become automatic. We have the power to choose a different response by putting our prefrontal cortex to work and becoming hyper-aware of our habits.
- Focus on what you ARE going to do – when we set goals, we usually tell ourselves what we’re NOT going to do. “I’m not going to eat sweets”, “I’m not going to spend so much time checking e-mail”, and so on. The brain’s habit-learning system doesn’t respond to NOT, but it will begin to change when you tell it what you ARE going to do.
- Control the environment – changing the environment around you to make undesirable habits harder and desirable ones easier can help you to succeed. Keeping a jar of cookies on your counter when you’re trying to kick a sugar habit doesn’t make you a bigger hero when you have the willpower to resist. Just get rid of the cookies.
- Celebrate your wins, even the little ones – rewarding yourself for progress helps to reinforce the changes you are working to make. Rewards don’t need to be complicated or extravagant. Oftentimes the best rewards are natural results of your efforts: better health, more happiness and increased energy.
- Most importantly, have a manageable plan – in order to rewire your brain, consistency is key. If you’ve never run before, a marathon is not the first logical step. Starting small while keeping the big picture in mind will create a doable action plan that will help you create the change you’re looking to make.
We all have habits we hope to change. We can start by becoming aware of them, consciously deciding to make a different choice about what we’ll do instead. Removing obstacles that make us stray off course and rewarding ourselves appropriately for our progress will help us stay focused on our goals. It’s not about making one huge leap, it’s a process of small, steady steps that will rewire our brains to change.