How do you begin your day? What is your morning process? Your routine? Your habits that set you off to a healthy, productive, happy start of your day? Do you pay attention to the quality of routines that move you from moment to moment, day by day?
While you ponder on what type of routines you follow daily, let me ask you this? When did you realize you have created a habit?
Our entire existence is composed of sets of habits. Routines we follow daily, either be it your morning routine, your office work flow, your bedtime routine, and just even smaller sets of habits, of how you sit and hold your fork in a restaurant, how you read the news, the way you put on your shirt. Even your posture, body language, and the way you behave is a habit.
Habits run our lives. Without them, life would be tedious and very complicated. Habits are not part of your memory in the brain, in fact, they are instinctual. Like the apps in your phone, habits are programs stored in the oldest aspect of brain development, in charge of those primal animal instincts.
Surely you have heard the phrase; “Humans are creatures of habit” Habits are what happens in the background of your life. Habits are what shapes our lives, what directs our lives and dictates our behaviors toward ourselves and others. Habits are why we resist change.
In your phone you can simply delete an app. But can you delete a habit? Habits are formed initially to save time and cognitive function, so the body and mind can focus on more pertinent tasks. Habits are ritualistic in nature. A routine repetitiveness that becomes a form of “muscle memory” and sends us of to an auto pilot mode. Habits allow us to move about our daily activities whilst multitasking extensively. Eating ice cream while you walk, for example, is composed of miniature habits active in this process.
Think about any new task you start that you are unfamiliar with, particularly think about the first day you sat behind the wheel of a car. How in the world can you multitask like this? Changing the gear, while pressing one pedal, and then slowly pressing another paddle, while keeping your hands on the wheel. Looking in all rear view mirrors to see what’s behind you, while focusing on what’s in front of you. Making sure you signal your turning intentions and breaking subtly. And then you have to parallel park between two cars? Can you fit? How to get in, and what angle to take?
There are many tasks involved in the process of driving. And cognition and alertness is high in the consciousness. However, after repeating these patterns multiple times, the brain registers them and moves the routines into a part that no longer occupies active cognition of the brain. Now if the mind is free of consciously following the routine of driving, what is it doing then? Thinking perhaps about your upcoming interview with your boss, or your fight with your loved one the night before? Or simply thinking about the weather? However, what happens when you suddenly have a break in your habit? A switch, a change? The mind stirs back into the moment and becomes fully aware of the present, and this is the concept of activation of flight or fight, the ability of our Human computer to smell danger and protect you from an unforeseen circumstance. Like falling asleep behind the wheel? You seem to always wake up right at the exact moment needed to get out of harms way. Magical right?
In other words, our brain functions in such a matter that it constantly seeks out routine patterns and turns them into auto pilots clearing the consciousness of overworking cognition, leaving the mind free to dwell. Now dwelling takes us far away from the present moment, and thus outside of human experience. Keep that in mind as we continue.
How does the habit form?
When a baby is born, the new mothers are often told about the importance of developing a routine for the baby. Make sure it eats at the same time, make sure it sleeps at the same time every day .
Here the focus on raising this small child for new mothers is strictly creating a routine that you follow daily. What happens when a baby is out of its routine? When a baby wakes up before its time, or doesn’t go to sleep on time? Or does not eat on time?
You have a case of serious crankiness, uncontrollable crying, and fuss, which in turn makes you, the mother, cranky, anxious, and helpless. If the baby could talk it still would not be able to express why its crying…. because, habits are fully separated from consciousness and memory, so that baby without memory, and cognition is not able to express that its routine has been thrown off.
Child Behaviorists research shows that creating routines sets the stage of safety and security for newborn babies and toddlers. Spiritual practices explain the importance of energy channels and balancing them begins with this principle of safety and security. When we have safety and security, we are no longer in flight or fight mode, therefore we can begin to create rather than survive. Habits help us establish a self base from where we build our universe. Until we become to comfortable in the habit, where productivity diminishes.
The basis of creating routines is what makes up a habit. Most of your routines and habits are built in, embedded into your existence, based on previous patterns of socially acceptable ways of understanding safety and security. Now children are mostly unconscious in terms of identity development ( before age 7 anyway) thus their core habits were developed before they ever could be conscious of them, or be able to analyze what they are doing, So even before the child is able to develop memory, it develops habits. Habits are stored in the basal ganglia, the oldest structure formation of our brain, where the most basic functions take place. But, you as an adult are capable of reviewing your habits and becoming conscious of them. Now the question is, do they still or at all serve your greatest self?
In the book Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg presents a case study from memory expert Larry Squire, following the particular situation of Eugene, a patient who has lost all of his memory in an accident.
Eugene cannot form new memories, but following a daily routine becomes imbedded as a habit within his subconscious and he is able to perform it without being conscious about it. Eugene has lost complete ability of memory. Like the movie 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore, he can only follow a conversation for a few minutes at best, before he begins asking the same questions again.
Like the situation with the baby. Memory loss does not mean new habits are not able to form. The basal ganglia stores basic functions of our being, keeps up with Circadian rhythms and frees space from cognitive functions by selecting routines to become habits. Eugene can live out his entire life without consciousness and just following his daily routines to keep him fed, alive and well. Sadly, the social aspect of his life might be troublesome, as the people involved in his care, might be suffering.
Habits are run in a state of autopilot, where there’s no conscious thought or cognition for the functions being done. When Eugene was asked how did he get from his kitchen to his living room, he would not have the answer, because consciously he was not present during the process of moving through his routine from kitchen to living room.
Now here it is where it gets tricky. Eugene has a damage in his cerebral cortex and hypothalamus, but, what is the excuse for the rest of the population, that has leaned so strongly on their habits, and have allowed their lives to become a product of these habits, without actual awareness of the behavior they exhibit toward themselves and others.
Morality and ethics is a learned behavior. We learn it from previous generations, from the social construct in which we take part. It has nothing to do with our basic nature and understanding. We follow rules we deem fair or true, because this is how we’ve been programmed. So along these lines, we also create habits that correspond to societal trends. Such as smoking cigarettes. This is a “bad” habit. Why are we stuck with it?
The part of the brain in charge of running the habit program does not have a filter of moral or ethical reasoning for performing the set of routines, but we all tend to have picked up a few “bad” habits. According to societal trends, and also, according to our biology, certain habits are not serving the highest potential of our being, but we perform them anyway, as if trapped by our own primitive selves.
Smoking is not just one habit. It’s composed of multiple habits, because it has different rewards and various cues that tell the mind to run the routine. And this is particularly challenging in the process of changing this habit. So how do we change a habit?
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”Larry Squire, Memory Expert, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
According to Charles Duhigg in the book Power of Habit, he explains that a habit follows a loop. A habit loop. The habit loop is what habits are composed of; the cue, the routine, and the reward. The reward is simple. We do things always because there is something in it for us. However, some habits still give us a reward, but are not necessarily beneficial for our well being. Like the habit of smoking. The reward can simply be a peace of mind, de-stressing , or even a pleasure thing after a meal, but our health is compromised. Now the mind does not distinguish between good or bad routines, simply sees a pattern records it, and stores it in the basal ganglia, and with the help of the cue, it runs the program of this routine, to reach the reward.
Perhaps understanding the reward part of the loop is clear. We do a behavior, because there is some sort of reward at the end. Something that makes us warm and fuzzy inside. The routine part we understand, as the path to receiving that reward.
But the cue, in theory, is the thing that begins the habit. But cues are subtle, tricky and connected to multiple daily aspects. The cue is really the trigger point and also what creates the habit and makes it feel concrete, unchangeable.
Understanding and breaking down the habit loop is the key to modifying the habit, and changing your routines.
Now change and habits are in opposition of each other. When we try to make a change, the brain wakes up and questions your intentions, your drives, your doubts. Habits keep us comfortable, silent, unquestioning and obeying. Change however, is revolutionary, feels sudden, and the mind becomes resistant. We fight against change, only because we have consciousness. You see in nature, change is inevitable, and welcomed. Such is the example of changing seasons. If a tree had consciousness would he willingly let go of its leaves?
Conscious awareness of habits is actually an Ace in your pocket. Because then, and only then, can you perform to your highest potential, by regularly tweaking your habits in the direction of self development, growth and knowledge.
How to change your habit?
Become aware of it first. Become aware of every bit of cue that signals the routine, and become aware of the reward. Is it truly a rewarding experience the routine you do? Is it truly honoring the greatest self? Who truly benefits from the reward?
Creating habits that are congruent with your belief systems and honor your true nature is what life is all about.
Remember, our habits began with the basis for safety and security. Influences such as today’s media and social trends are not the best guide in how we tend to our routines, but can challenge us to look inward and seek the patterns that no longer serve us.
Habits lead our lives, but we are conscious beings, let us embrace this ability. Let us embrace change, and become aware of our daily patterns, adjusting them accordingly. Take your life into your own Hands, mind and heart.
In addition, I am now offering tools and modalities using Ayurvedic approach in how to begin your path to changing the habits that no longer serve you.
Join me today to uncover what habits you do are cramping your style, draining your energy, and keep you out of synch with nature.