Forming habits is a great evolutionary mechanism for us to automate repetitive behaviors.
It's a survival tool to our daily functioning as it frees up time, mental energy and thought processes. If every moment we need to stop, consciously think, and make an effortful decision as to whether we perform a behavior, we'll drive ourselves crazy.
However, this power of habit formation comes as a double-edged sword.
Of course we love the fact that we can automate our lives effortless, but when the old habit is detrimental to our future goals, we find it extremely difficult to change.
Brain Researcher Ann Graybiel in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been one of the core researchers on the power of habits for more than a decade.
She and her team found that although old habits can slowly be replaced by new habits, they can never be completely eliminated because once habits are formed in the brain, they become encoded in the deep brain structures known as the basal ganglia.
So there's literally a physical connection (aka. neural pathways) that's been formed in your brain that makes it extremely difficult to eradicate. Therefore habits are never really forgotten, they are always sneakily domiciling somewhere in your brain.
Secondly, when you make changes, you are stepping out of your comfort zone and it requires mental energy to continue doing something new. This switch in behavior deprives you from the old benefits you obtained from your automatic habits while it also requires you to invest additional effort into forming a new habit.
That's why you'll encounter great resistance during change.
So is there an effective way to change your habits?
Luckily Charles Duhigg, author of <The Power of Habits>, showed us it's possible. He found that "to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine."
What he means is that you need to first identify the cue that's triggering the routine. Maybe it's seeing the chocolate cake, maybe it's 3:30pm every day, or maybe it's a certain location with certain people.
Then, the second thing to do is to identify the rewards that the habit is giving you. Maybe it's a physical pleasure, maybe it's an emotional feeling you like, or maybe it's a tangible gift.
The final step is to find a plan to replace your current habit/routine with a new one.
Meanwhile, you need to identify what he called "keystone" habits. These are the habits that will set a chain reaction that extends to all areas of your life.
Put in another way, when you focus on changing these important habits, you will benefit from multiple areas of your life.
When you follow the 3-step process and focus on "keystone" habits, you'll finally need to believe that change is possible. And that's why it's best if you seek support from a community of people who believe in you.
When they help you see that small wins are possible, you'll increase the odds of replacing your old habits with the new ones.
Aristotle says, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
The question is, are you willing to invest in the initial hard work, time, energy and effort to replace the bad habits with the good supportive ones that will propel you to greatness?