Positive Habit Formation
Habit formation provides the basis for any activity from the macro to the micro-level. We develop habits – both good and bad – through the repetition of certain behaviors that result in the etching of neural pathways in the mind. These neural pathways are the mind’s way of reducing its overall workload; it’s the way the mind puts things into autopilot.
We’ve all had our fair share of experiences with good and bad habits. But, how are habits really formed and how do we go about creating good habits and eliminating bad habits?
Biting Off more than you can Chew
Sometimes, when we try to bite off more than we can chew, we get discouraged. What do I mean? Think about your past experiences and see if you can remember any times in your life where you set a goal, decided you would break a bad habit, or create a good habit, then got sidetracked and discouraged after multiple failed attempts.
Maybe you tried to lose weight and break the bad habit of stopping at a fast food restaurant on your way home from work. Or, maybe you tried to stop smoking cigarettes, stop overspending, stop over drinking, or anything else for that matter, and it didn’t work out.
Well, oftentimes, to develop good habits, we not only have to break bad habits, but we also have to override our natural urges to do or not do something. These urges are built into us and make overriding habitual behavior that’s built through years of repetition, incredibly difficult. It’s clear that breaking bad habits poses an enormous hurdle, but so does instilling good habits.
So, what are we supposed to do?
How are we supposed to overcome our natural tendencies to do things we know are detrimental to us, and not do things we know would help empower us?
Overriding our Internal Psychology
Part of what makes us who we are is the interaction that goes on in our minds. Interaction? Yes, our minds are a very complex system of interacting components and parts. One of the major interactions that occurs within the mind is within the Psychic Apparatus, a term coined by the late Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology.
The three parts of the Psychic Apparatus are the Id, Ego, and Superego.
These three parts are working in conjunction with one another to help you make your daily decisions and they’re the basis for the thoughts that you have in both your subconscious and conscious mind. But, the interaction between the three involves some push-and-pull.
The Id operates on the pleasure principle and it’s a purely subconscious component of the mind. It’s the part that we’re born with. It’s basal; instinctual. It what makes us want to eat, defecate, and procreate. It gives us urges that are interlaced with our DNA. But, the Id, if left unchecked, is also the part of us that makes developing new and empowering habits very difficult. The Id tells us to indulge in whatever guilty pleasure we might want to indulge in.
Opposite to the Id is the Superego. The superego is the part of us that acts as our moral compass. It’s what developed through our upbringing. Through the guidance of our parents or guardians, our Superegos develop into what helps keep us in check and not cross the line, helping to instill guilt into us when we do end up doing something wrong.
If you’ve ever indulged in something that you knew you shouldn’t have indulged in, it was your Superego that made you feel guilty afterwards. So, when the Id is urging us to do something based in pleasure, the Superego is urging us to be more cautious.
The tug-of-war that goes on between these two components – the Id and the Superego – is refereed by the Ego. Yes, the Ego is what helps you to decide which way you’ll act. Will you indulge, succumbing to temptations, or will you play it safe and steady, keeping your pleasure instinct in check?
The Ego is also steeped in the reality principle. It wants to give you what you want, but it wants to do it within the confines of your reality. So, if it’s weight loss you’re after, the Ego seeks out some solution that will help you satisfy the instant pleasure of the Id while doing so within reality. This is why so many of us turn to fad weight-loss diets and get-rich-quick schemes. It’s the Ego trying to satisfy the urges of the Id while also giving us what we want.
Forming Good Habits by Overriding Our Internal Psychology
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in that mind of yours. It’s highly complex and the interaction is something that you can’t even understand because part of it goes on in that substrate that we can’t access called the subconscious mind.
As humans, we have 60,000 thoughts per day, and most of those are thoughts that we can’t access because they’re habitual in nature, carved deep into the neural pathways of our subconscious minds. So, if we’re not careful, those thoughts can drive us in the wrong direction in life.
So, what are we supposed to do? How do we develop good habits and override our internal psychology?
Developing good habits involves first building an awareness towards the self-talk in your mind. Although you can’t hear what goes on in your subconscious mind, you can feel your emotions. Your emotions are the antenna to your mind. When we think of something, and that thought is prevalent and overpowering, we experience a certain set of emotions.
By paying close attention to our emotions we can access those prevalent thoughts. But the important thing to remember here is awareness. When we don’t have awareness, we’re simply a pawn to the chess game going on in our own minds. We’ll do things without even being aware of it. We’ll light a cigarette without knowing, reach for a candy bar without thinking, turn on the television without even being conscious of the actions, all because these acts are habitually carved into the neural pathways in the mind.
Forming Good Habits with Baby-Steps
When a baby is born, they begin to take baby-steps. They do things in small incremental doses. They learn to walk, slowly – they fall down many times. They learn to talk slowly – they fumble their words and leave out syllables. But the important thing is that they do things slowly; they start incrementally.
Why is this important?
Well, to develop good habits and override the internal psychology of the mind, you must take baby-steps. You have to start out by doing things in small but incremental doses. Scientific studies suggest that small incremental changes are the pathway to greater success in any area.
So, how do we take baby steps to form good habits?
Well, forming good habits through baby-steps is simple. The hardest part that most people have with developing new habits (or breaking old ones), is that they find it hard to get started. They procrastinate by making the task much bigger in their mind than it should be. So, you have to take baby-steps. Start out small, then progress, but focus on the baby-steps. These would also be considered Mini-Habits, a term used by Stephen Guise in his latest book, Mini-Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results.
When you can promise yourself, for example, to simply go for a walk around the block, once every day, then you’re taking baby-steps and building mini-habits. What you’ll come to find is that these baby-steps lead to much bigger actions that build incrementally. Like a baby, you start out small and you progress.
Having an enormous weight-loss goal in your mind of say, 100 pounds, is okay, but your mind will revert back to the internal psychology, and your outward desire to lose 100 pounds will be overridden by your inward desires for pleasure through your Id.
So, take baby-steps. That’s all it takes to start developing good habits… baby-steps.