Recently, I moved to a new apartment. Upon getting up the first morning and stumbling to the kitchen to make coffee, it dawned on me how mindlessly I’ve been carrying out this habit for the last few years. Even though I had unpacked the boxes myself the day before and knew where I had put the coffee, spoons, etc., I automatically reached for the drawers and cabinets where these items had been in my previous apartment. Duh.
You may have experienced a similar phenomenon when driving to work. All of a sudden you’ve arrived and you don’t recall a thing about the journey. It can be a little unsettling.
But the human mind is a wonder and is equipped with functions that allow us to do things like multi-task (although not as well as we might think) and engage in daily habits without too much deep thought. Our implicit memory enables us to effectively drive a car, while listening to the news on the radio. We don’t need to consciously think about each step.
And if a new cue catches our attention (e.g., a sudden change in road conditions, our favorite song on the radio, the ringing of our cell phone), our brain can quickly shift to focus on this novel stimulus. We easily snap out of our “habit” trance and focus our attention back on the present moment.
While the brain’s propensity toward habit enables us to be incredibly efficient, it also hinders our ability to change. This is why it’s so difficult to start a new workout routine or change our eating habits, for example. When we wake up, we shift into “habit” mode instead of putting on our sneakers. In the grocery store, we wander our regular aisles and focus on the familiar package of Oreos that we’ve purchased 100 times before.
Whether trying to incorporate a healthier regimen, mustering the motivation to clean out the basement, or developing a habit of using social media to market your business, if we want to change, we need to fight against our biological instinct and create cues in the environment that grab our attention to snap us out of our habits.
For example, wear your workout clothes to bed so you’re ready to run in the morning. Put one box on top of the washer in the basement so that each time you do laundry you have to clean out a box of junk. Set your Home Page on your computer to Linked In, so that it automatically opens each morning when you click on your browser to remind you to market your business.
Yes, these will feel a little uncomfortable at first, but that’s the point. Comfort is the biggest enemy of change. If you really want to do things differently, you must be willing to put up with the discomfort that comes with resisting a well-ingrained habit.
And, the positive results you get will only further reinforce your NEW habit. Soon you’ll be lacing up your sneakers in the morning without a second thought.