Creating a new habit
How to create new habit? Is it possible to maintain the goals set?
Interviewer – Beata Justkowiak, Psychologist and Life Coach
Mindfulness Expert – Pierre Gagnon, Mind Trainer at Thanyapura, Phuket
Beata: We are moving to the second half of the year and often people are re-evaluating their yearly goals, new and old habits, the New Year’s Resolutions. It seems like we are doing the same things every year. January we see an increase in Gym attendance and then it drastically goes down in March, why?
Pierre: It’s all about habits. We tend to believe that we make conscious decisions in life but in reality what we do is a mass of habits. We have all at some point decided to do something and had to put a lot of thinking into it and eventually it became an automatism. We neglect and misunderstand these habits that compose our lives.
The brain naturally creates habits for survival reasons.
If we had to think about everything we do, it would consume an immense amount of energy and the size of our brain would significantly increase. Energy wise the brain consumes up to 20% of all our energy intake in one day. Now imagine if everything you do out of pure habit would become a conscious thinking process, this intake could go up to 30% maybe even more. It would also increase the size of the brain which would create problems for childbirth.
Beata: Why the brain creates bad habits? It seems to go against our own survival chances?
Pierre: The brain can’t make the difference between a good and a bad habit. Once you’ve automated a process, it can be exercising everyday or stopping at a fast food restaurant every second day, once it’s automated the process is transferred to an old part of your brain from an evolutionary point of view. This part is called the basal ganglia. We could generalize by saying that the basal ganglia is the sum of all our habits. This part is also responsible for automatism for which our survival depends. So you can imagine how stable it is. In the basal ganglia new things can be written but we can’t erase old stuff. Erasing could simply be life threatening. So once an habit has been coded in the basal ganglia (a good one or a bad one) it’s there to stay. The good news is that we can write new habits in that deep structural part of the brain
Beata: Why is it so difficult to create new good habits?
Pierre: I think it’s because we don’t know the structure of our habits. Charles Duhigg wrote this wonderful book titled “The power of habits”. I highly recommend reading it. Good habits can be created. He describes how first we must understand our habit, how is it structured.
An habit is made of 4 elements:
– cue (the trigger of the habit),
– routine (the habit itself),
– reward (the goal that we unconsciously want to achieve)
– craving (what powers the habit).
Let say that we want to create the habit of exercising. Now we come home and sit in front of the TV. We could over a week analyze what triggers this old bad habit. These triggers will fit in one of these 5 categories: Location, time, emotional state, other people and immediately preceding action. We identify the routine, the reward and the craving. Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings. But we are often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviours.
Beata: How can we become more mindful of our cravings?
Pierre: We live for feelings. We want pleasant feelings and don’t want unpleasant ones. Once you have created a positive craving for exercise, it will power your new habit. It could be the release of endorphins or the absence of guilt when you indulge a little too much in food because you know that you exercise and can burn it. We need to associate a positive craving that will power the new good habit. This is how a conscious action will become an effortless habit. So find cravings that will power new good habits and you will see that the gym becomes a new routine for you. Craving the idea of meeting people with who we workout but also chat and laugh as we are working out can be very powerful to automate the new routine.