By Sanah Thakur
Change has become paramount to existence today. We’re changing our jobs, our hair, our breakfast smoothies, our texting lingo, our operating systems and our bedtime rituals. Water is boring; we’re drinking flavoured tea. Air isn’t pure; we’ve scented it. Exercise is mundane — why stick to one form of it? And in this world, where Youtube videos follow a more rigid routine of updating, it’s hard to remain loyal to the boring ‘daily’ habits. When was the last time you engaged in, ate, drank or believed in the same thing every day for more than a fortnight?
The new habit of change
A renowned author once said, “Human beings are creatures of habit. It’s amazing what we can get used to”. Indeed, human beings today have acquired a habit of change – to constantly reinvent our every day, flashing images of this championed change through social media. We despise consistency because it creates a restlessness within. I fail to recall when I last slept and woke up at the same time every day, opened my eyes to morning light instead of phone displays or ate home cooked food for a week consistently. These are habits I’m not proud of, yet my mind refuses to replace them with the dullness of basic routines.
Habits and the brain
Habits of thoughts and action are the fundamental blueprint of human brain activity. With every habit we develop, our brains form neural connections that are repeated. Every time we do the same thing, these patterns are stimulated and strengthened. Different regions of the brain are associated with specific functions due to consistent neural repetitions from our earliest developmental stages. The brain is visual when it supports habits that are vision-like and auditory with those that are touch-like. The new age, habitually changing individual, confuses this basic biology. When we start stimulating visual areas while engaging in sensory activities, for example, watching TV while eating dinner, we’re creating a habit of focusing all visual attention on the screen. Therefore, eating is boring without the excessive visual stimulation and the brain seeks distraction. This lack of attention on the sensory act of eating, makes us less likely to remember that we ate and increases the need to snack later on. We’re unconsciously even killing the daily habit of simply eating a meal in peace.
Accepting regularity as exciting
Maintaining this habit of change isn’t going to benefit us in the long run. It might seem more exciting to reward yourself with a new exercise routine or bed time ritual every week. But fueling this need to crave excitement and difference in our daily habits is shortening the maintenance of any routine at all. People wonder why we can’t commit to relationships today; perhaps we should start with committing to a regular habit first. Researchers highlight that changing an old habit requires replacing the routine but maintaining the same reward. For example, if you decide to replace your habit of using a laptop/phone before you sleep, identify the reward you get from this behavior first. In my case the reward is being entertained after a long day of work. To maintain this reward of entertainment I would replace the routine with another form visual stimulus, like a comic book, a crossword or a magazine. This is a better habit and by maintaining it regularly I can train my brain to be equally satisfied.
Calm your habits
1. Break down a bigger goal into smaller habits: For example, ‘I want a healthier daily routine’ can be broken down into, smaller, achievable habits - drink warm water when you wake up, sleep at 9:30 pm and walk around the house for 30 mins.
2. Focus on one habit: Once it is unconscious and automatic, move on to accommodating another habit.
3. Don’t “spoil” your habit: Consistency is key. Trying to change things up every two weeks will motivate your restless mind to focus on the reward rather than the process.
4. Mistakes are milestones: Don’t be hard on yourself for the minor setbacks in training your brain. Treat your mistakes like google maps treats them – by rerouting yourself.
* The author can be contacted on Instagram @sincerelysanah
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