Man is many things.
Creator, lover, warrior, mentor, and leader. The list goes on and on. However, before any of these titles come into play, man is undoubtedly a creature of habit.
You’ve probably heard that before, but do you realize how relevant that phrase is to your life? That’s because habit is an inescapable reality for every single person alive.
Our actions are biologically wired to be habitual.
Furthermore, those actions compound into the eventual outcomes we experience in life, whether they be good or bad. So, the truth is that the majority of everything that you’ve ever experienced or ever will experience is and will be a result of your daily habits.
That means our Successes and Failures, which aren’t very different, dwell on the same spectrum of behavior that we all engage in. Both can be reached through consistent repetition.
What makes the difference between the two is awareness, choice, and willpower. So, is there an area of your life that you feel has been going rather well or maybe not well at all?
Then it’s time to find out how, why, and what you’ve been doing right… or wrong.
WHAT ARE HABITS?
Picture this, it’s early morning, let’s say 5 a.m. A cool breeze from your window rolls over your face as the light of dawn brightens up the room. Chirping birds and the drone of an airplane flying overhead signal in your mind that it’s time to get up.
Most likely, this is when you swing your feet onto the floor, head to the bathroom to freshen up, and begin the day.
Or… maybe you close your eyes and get just a few more minutes(hours) of sleep.
Regardless of what you do, odds are, you do this every day to the point where you don’t even think about it. It’s your routine.
We all have routines, some of us plan them, while others just go through them unaware of their existence.
According to Marco Badwal, former Research Scholar of Learning and Memory at Harvard University and current MD Candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, habits are automated behaviors that we repeat over and over.
In a 2018 TED Talk, Marco dives into the exact science behind it. Habits follow a simple formula, they start with a cue, a person, place, or thing. That cue triggers a behavior, the habitual action. That action then results in a neurological reward in your brain.
That reward is important because it encourages you to repeat the action that brought about the reward whenever you encounter the same cue, thus creating an addicting cycle.
The Dopamine Loop
You might already know it, but Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is released in your brain whenever you indulge in habitual behavior. It’s the reward chemical that makes your brain say “This feels good, I want to do this again.”
It is both friend and foe, but which one it is to you is your choice.
Your brain has almost 100 billion neurons that are all associated with certain actions. They are connected by axons, the fibers that carry nerve impulses.
Around those fibers is Myelin, a protein-rich, fatty substance that increases the speed of impulses between neurons.
Everything your brain does requires energy, so it has one goal: to conserve energy. The more myelin you have between your neurons, the less energy your brain needs to trigger an action.
Every time we repeat a habit, in other words, get that sweet hit of dopamine, the myelin around our nerve fibers gets thicker, making performing that action even easier.
In other words, a habit.
Effectively, your brain is designed to see what you repeat as important. Whether it’s good or bad if you repeat it, your brain says “yup, issa priority.”
And that, my friends, is why you sometimes find yourselves repeating certain actions, even when you know they’re bad for you!
Your mind literally can’t help it, habits are an innate condition, you simply have to have them.
But you’re not a slave to your mind, you always have a choice.
AWARENESS BEATS WILLPOWER
The best way of controlling your habits is to remain aware of them. That is an actual factual, and here’s why.
In an interview with Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes that Stick, she determined during her research “that about 43 percent of what people do every day is repeated in the same context, usually while they are thinking about something else. They’re automatically responding without really making decisions.”
So, it’s clear why people have so many bad habits, it’s so easy to form them because most habits are formed subconsciously.
Pick one of your bad habits. Chances are, you remember how you formed it, but definitely not when you formed it. Otherwise, you would have avoided forming it in the first place.
That’s because the natural human condition is to go about our days performing most of our actions on auto-pilot. It’s the most energy-efficient method our brains know how to use.
So maybe you haven’t experienced that big breakthrough in your business or relationship simply because you haven’t been thinking about the things you do (or don’t do) in your spare time.
If you want to achieve anything, then it boils down to choices, choices you must repeat, and be consistently aware of.
How to Optimize Your Awareness and Change Your Habits.
1. Identify Your Cues and Premeditate Your Rewards
First, identify the context that triggers your bad actions. Next, immediately swap in new cues that are associated with your desired actions. And be specific! Don’t just say, “I want to earn more clients.”
Say, “Every day at 11:30 a.m., I’m going to call 10 prospects, and if I do, I’ll watch 2 episodes of my favorite show.” The fact is, you’ll get places faster by knowing the exact route and rest stops you need to take and not just the destination.
2. Find Your Why
If you were randomly told to jump into a freezing lake, would you? Probably not, but what if your child or loved one was flailing around in the water? You’d probably jump in, head first, with your shoes still on.
None of the techniques for changing your habits will mean anything if your motivation isn’t compelling enough. Why do you want to be an entrepreneur, why do you want to be in better shape, why are you willing to jump into that freezing lake?
Maybe it’s better to ask, who are you willing to jump for? If your answer is meaningful enough, then you’ll be unstoppable.
3. Ease into Your New Habits
None of us is Superman. Willpower alone will fail us, that is a fact. To avoid that, it’s crucial to break up your largest endeavors into smaller tasks. That way, you expend less energy completing them until you’re ready to go all in.
Maybe you decide to meditate for only 5 minutes every other day of the week. Maybe you designate one or two days in the week where you don’t eat meat. Whatever your goal is, start slow and then ramp it up when you’re ready.
4. Track Your Actions
This is EXACTLY what it sounds like. This way, you’ll be aware of everything you do regarding the actions you want to change. If you want to lose weight, buy a little notebook and write down everything you eat as well as the times of your workouts.
If you want to save money, write down everything you buy. Every week, do a tally of your actions and see for yourself exactly how well… or how badly you’re doing. And no half-assing, write it ALL down.
You’ll become hyper-aware of yourself and thus more likely to stay consistent.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Yes, reward yourself in little bits, however, as you progress, you will reach certain milestones that signify a big jump in your progress. A certain number of followers on Instagram, a new best for your maximum weight on the bench press, you earned that promotion you’ve been eyeing for months.
Whatever it is, when you get that big win, reward yourself in a big way. The flush of dopamine through your brain will have you trying to recreate those wins over and over again. You’ll be addicted to victory.
THE TALE OF TWO MEN
As a man, you must face the mirror and admit that your current lifestyle is a result of your daily actions.
The difference between good and bad is your awareness.
Consciously making good choices over bad ones until those choices become unconscious will result in the improvements that you’re seeking.
To do otherwise will only leave you worse off than before.
That is because your habits have amazing power.
They can complete you… but they can also defeat you.
Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
These wise words speak to the truths regarding our behavior.
The man who practices one kick is the man of focus. He chooses the same path every day, so he finds success.
His habit grants him development and growth.
The man who practices 10,000 kicks is the man of absentmindedness. He chooses a different path every day, so he becomes lost.
His habit leads to stagnation and ruin.
Both men have their habits and their outcomes are worlds apart because of it.
If these two men met on a battlefield, the fight would end with one decisive kick…
So, it must be asked.
What do you want in life, which man are you, and which man do you wish to be?
Choose your answers not just wisely, but consistently as well.
About the Author
Ian is a Freelance Copywriter. He helps compassionate coaches and leaders reclaim their time, energy, and confidence by creating content strategies that help them channel their higher purpose. A free-thinking ambivert, Ian encourages individuals to walk the path of open-mindedness, compassion, balance, and self-mastery. He loves to exercise, meditate, and cook. He is also an avid reader, writer, poet, and gamer. He currently resides in New Jersey.