Ever had an old habit that you wanted to get rid of? Well I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that you can’t just get rid of a habit. That wiring in your brain is there to stay.
The good news, however, is that you CAN write over it.
Do you know someone who has been ruined by addiction? Gambling, alcohol, checking email – whatever the vice, these habits can ruin a life.
The gambler sees a slot machine, puts money in, then gets a high when he JUST misses a win. “That felt good. Let’s go again.”
The alcoholic sees a bottle, drinks it, and likes the way he feels after. “That felt good. Let’s go again.”
The businessman sees that flashing light on his Blackberry, checks his email, then feels productive. “That felt good. Let’s go again.”
All of these people respond to a cue with a routine. They then continue responding the same way because they like the reward. This habit loop is known as positive feedback, where the end helps repeat the cycle.
When circuits in your brain fire, they signal neuron insulation to be laid down. This fatty insulation is known as myelin and helps transmit signals faster. If you’ve ever heard of “white matter”, that’s the part of a neuron that is wrapped in myelin.
Every time you practice a task, the circuits for that task fire over and over again. That’s why Rufus makes you do 100 reps of RDLs every day if you come in on Saturdays. You want to ingrain the right RDL pattern.
As you can tell, however, this adaptation isn’t always a good thing.
Each time the executive checks his phone, he’s reinforcing a pattern – he’s laying down myelin. What if instead of checking his email after he sees the flashing light on his phone he turns the phone over and asks a coworker if she needs any help? Now the cue has triggered a productive behavior as opposed to a time waster. He’s still left with his reward, but when he comes back, the cue is gone. Out of sight, out of mind. Literally, in this case.
What if when you got a craving for sweets, you first ate a handful of veggies? You may still have the sweets after, but you’ve begun building a new habit. Change doesn’t happen overnight. In time, you’re left with a craving for veggies.
The sweets wiring in your brain won’t disappear, but you can build the veggie wiring to overpower the sweets. In time, grabbing some vegetables will be automatic. That’s the power of the brain.
What’s a habit you’re looking to rewrite?