John Dryden observed that we first make our habits and then our habits make us. How true! Studies have shown that about 45% of our actions are habitual, that our brain consciously processes only 40 out of every 11,000 signals we receive from our senses.
Amazing! Is it not time we realized that our success or our health or our prosperity is based on the habits we form?
This is a three-part article. In the first step to good habits we will look into these:
- What are Habits?
- Brain Behind Habits
- The Principle of Pain and Pleasure
- What Motivates us: Pain or Pleasure?
- What Are Good Habits?
- How to Cultivate Good Habits
What Are Habits?
The thoughts we think and actions we perform repeatedly become automatic. These automatic thoughts and actions are called habits.
A habit once formed does not involve conscious thought. It becomes automatic. Getting up early, exercising daily, positive thinking, taking the dog for a walk in the morning, writing a diary are all examples of habits. Habits help to perform complex actions easily. Imagine having to learn how to brush the teeth everyday.
The Brain Behind Habits
A habit, any habit, is first a thought, a simple electro-magnetic bio-chemical signal in the brain. This in turn triggers (’fires’) another brain cell and that activates another brain cell, like a line of falling dominos creating a pattern or a pathway.
Once a pattern is formed, the brain finds it easier to work in the pathway. And with each repetition, the pathway becomes stronger. And a habit is born. This is how the brain forms habits.
It is important to understand this process because change also happens in the brain.
The Principle of Pain and Pleasure
I always wondered what drives us until I understood the principle of pain and pleasure. It is simply this: we are willing to do what we perceive will give us pleasure and are unwilling to do what we perceive will result in pain.
A little analysis shows all our actions are based on the desire for lasting happiness and removal of pain and want. Our habits – good and bad – are built on this common, universal motive.
This principle is important as cultivating a good habit is about using the right pain-pleasure trigger.
What Motivates us: Pain or Pleasure?
We are in general more motivated to move away from pain than move toward pleasure. In other words, our desire to avoid pain is however greater and more intense than the desire for happiness or pleasure.
Take a few seconds to think about it. Let it sink in. Now ask yourself, ‘What motivates me, pain or pleasure?’ Here are a few questions:
- Do I go to the office in time to avoid being penalized by the boss or am I on time for the pleasure of being punctual?
- Do I visit a dentist to move away from my tooth ache or do I visit him twice a year to enjoy healthy, strong teeth?
- Do I study in order not to fail or do I pursue my education for the pleasure of gaining knowledge and skills and building a great career?
- Do I work to because I don’t want to be poor or do I work to become prosperous?
- Do you finish your homework to avoid punishment or for the joy of work well done?
- Is a God who is angry and vengeful more appealing or a God who loves unconditionally?
Once we learn what motivates us, cultivating a good habit or removing an unwanted habit becomes more streamlined, scientific.
What Are Good Habits?
Our brain does not know the difference between a good habit and a bad one. So how do we know what is a good one or a bad one?
The answer is pretty simple: Whatever is healthy for the body and is strengthening to the mind is good.
Cultivating Good Habits
In order to cultivate good habits, we have to first identify them. How do we do this? By becoming aware of how strong our strengths are, by noticing what is needed to progress towards our goals, our desires, our aspirations, our dreams.
Once we identify the necessary habits, we can start working on cultivating them. There are many proven methods. All of them are however based on four indisputable Ds: Determination, Diligence, Discipline and Drive.
The Golden Rule of Cultivating Habits is this: work on ONE habit at a time.
End of Step I
Step II will discuss these key points:
- Shifting from avoidance of pain to desire for pleasure mode
- The Rule of 21
- Self -Awareness: The Key to Change
- Benjamin Franklin Method
- Self-Talk Method
- Listing Benefits Method
Step III will discuss these key points:
- Og Mangdino Method
- Meditation Method
- Visualization Method
- Affirmation Method
- Louise Hay Method
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Related thoughts of Great Men and Women
Powerful indeed is the empire of habit – Pubilius Syrus
The skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame – Virginia Woolf