Habits! How To Make Them And Break Them (PART I)

Habits are imprinted on our brain almost like a tattoo on the skin.  We can make new ones, but it is hard to remove the old ones!  Let me share with you what I have learned about habits, and how we can master them so we can master our lives.

(Part I of this series will explain important basics about habits.  Part II will have practical ideas on how to use it.)

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I.  WHAT ARE HABITS

When you do something so many times that you don’t think about it anymore (or very minimally) – that is a habit.

Habits are routines that we do with tremendous ease, almost robotically.  Automatically!  These routines can be simple or complex.

When driving if you want to make a left signal, you don’t think about reaching with your left hand and pushing the lever.  You do it automatically.  Similarly, a surgeon does not think much when he hits a small blood vessel that starts bleeding.  He calls for “cautery,” and zaps it quickly to stop the bleeding.

Habits are formed by repeating a sequence of events many times until it becomes automatic.

We take this ability for granted.  If you think about it however, this is a mind-blowing ability our brain has.  I can in essence teach my brain almost anything, regardless how complex, and it will do it with ease and fluidity and at a moment’s notice!  The only thing I have to do is repeat that action enough times.

II.  THE ANATOMY OF A HABIT

Habits can be broken into three basic parts:

  • Cue – a trigger for us to start.  (example: the thought that we need to make a left turn)
  • Routine – the sequence of events which the habit consists of. (example: reaching with our left hand and pushing the signal lever down)
  • Reward – the good feeling we get from finishing the routine. (example: feeling good that we followed the law and signaled correctly)

What is most interesting is that our brain dedicates a special place for habits to be stored!

This “procedural,” automatic process we follow is stored in a specific part of our brain called the basal ganglia.  This is a different location in the brain from where the information needed to perform this task is stored.  Only the sequence is stored in the basal ganglia.

Let me illustrate.  A patient who had a stroke that makes him forget information on where his house is if you ask him directly, can still walk from the grocery store to his house successfully, if his basal ganglia is intact!

Why is this applicable and important?  Because our brain dedicates a special capacity for us to learn new habits, new routines.  To use computer analogy, we have a dedicated CPU for habit formation. We should use it!

III.  WHY ARE HABITS IMPORTANT?

This ease of performing simple or complex actions can make or break us as individuals and as leaders at home and at work.

When you form good habits, you do good things with ease!  When you form bad habits, you do bad things with ease!

What if you have habits that set you up for success?  Then, you perform with ease what will set you up for success!

Most of us are not conscious about forming new good habits.  We should be!  Most are not aware that almost everything we do is in some way a habit.  We need to be!  “We are creatures of habit” is not just a cliché.  It is the truth!

What we think of and do is largely preprogramed.  If we want growth, progress and freedom we need to understand our habits so we can have more good ones and less bad ones!

Wishing you much success with your habits today!

Your friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

PS: If you think this blog can benefit a person you know, please consider forwarding this email!

Credit:  The seed thought of this blog came from the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.

Reading:  This week I am reading the book Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

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