We carry extra weight, former procrastinators, when we ourselves do things that work against us. Often the problem is not our character – it’s the approaches we take. If we use methods that cooperate with our brains we are boosted on our way.
In Mini Habits, Stephen Guise explains how our brains work so we can see why mini habits work for us. I find this SO helpful! We can work in cooperation with our Creator to use what He has supplied so we can be faithful and fruitful.
- Neural pathways are communication channels in the brain. When a habit’s pathway is triggered by a cue, you have the urge to do that habitual behavior. (Wake up – Shower) Our brain prefers to perform habits because they have existing pathways and known rewards. New behaviors have no neural pathways. Therefore you have to deliberately, manually override the typical behavior. The more you do, the more the baby neural pathway thickens until it becomes the habit. We want to create and strengthen chosen neural pathways with repetition.
- Think of the subconscious brain and the conscious. (The brain is more complex, but this will serve us.) First, the subconscious is the basal ganglia which recognizes and repeats patterns until it’s taught otherwise.
Repetition is the language of the subconscious brain. The goal in forming habits is to change your brain with repetition. The brain will resist, so we use repetition and reward. Repeat a behavior over time and your subconscious brain will automate it because it loves efficiency. Automation is more efficient than continual decision-making.
Next, the conscious brain is the prefrontal cortex (behind your forehead). It’s the smart “manager” that understands long-term benefits and consequences. It has the ability to override the basal ganglia. It oversees repeater operations and steps in when something can be done better. However, the manager gets tired and stressed. To form habits, we repeat a behavior, which teaches the repeater part of the brain to like what the manager wants. Then the repeater carries on the desired behavior.
- The brain resists change. Big change requires big willpower. A mini habit is a low willpower Trojan horse that gains easy access into the brain’s control room. Guise’s brain outright rejected the idea of a 30 minute workout. He considered one push up. “How pathetic. One pushup isn’t going to help anything.” But there was no brain push back. He’d snuck in. So he did one push up – and a few more while he was there. Thus began his journey.
The brain is slow – changing and stable. That’s good. Patience (that fruit of the Spirit) helps our brains make a change. Repeating positive actions can make God’s gift of automatic behavior a great boost to our lives and goals.
What new neural pathway (habit) do you want to grow?