When you actually break it down, the process of change can actually be simple, but not easy when you don’t have the right tools or approach.
Combine this with the fact that the brain is not a huge fan of change and you can see how change has earned its reputation.
I will give you a few key words that can turn it all around and hack open the mystery of change.
They are: practice, repetition, and fun.
I know that these words are not particularly earth-shattering or sexy, but lasting change is not a flashy fad.
It is consistent, deliberate, and intentional action.
Think about the activities in your life that are so automatic that you don’t have to think to do them such as walking, running, reading, writing, driving, cooking, playing an instrument, learning to speak a language.
When you were a baby these things seemed gargantuan and impossible, AND here you are, doing them with ease.
Think about the hours you spent practicing these things, and how many times these activities have fired the neurons in your brain, how many times they have been reinforced(myelinated), and continue to be every time you do them.
Now think about the changes you want to create and how many times you have repeated the habits that support or negate those changes. Now think about what you want to do about them.
Here are some brain friendly habit hacking tips that will support you in making the changes that enhance the ease and enjoyment of your life!
Comment below to share how they worked for you, share your successes and to share some of your own.
Top 10 Brain Friendly Tips for Hacking your Habits
- Pick One Thing. This is super important. I know at this time of year it’s easy to get excited and want to do a whole life overhaul! This is not the time to do that. If you want to create lasting change it’s never a good time to do that. Let’s take the example of a light bulb. The photons from a light bulb can light up a room with diffuse light, so picking more than one thing is like focus that is diffused over many things. By contrast, if you take the same amount of photons that comes from a lightbulb and align the light waves into one unified wave, it becomes a laser, and you can cut through steel! If you pick one thing, you can direct your focus like a laser and progress faster and keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Small markers of success can become it’s own motivation so focus on small successes rather than sweeping and un-sustainable changes.
- See Where You Are On The Map! You need to know where you are starting from in order to know where you’re going. A way to support change in behavior is to get a good handle on what is actually happening. If you want to get a handle on your spending habits, start keeping track of what is going in and out. If you want to finally get help for your chronic headaches, start taking some data about the time of day, frequency that they occur, and location in your head. If you want to eat better, keep track of what you eat and what patterns you see in your cravings and preferences. If you want to clear clutter, start looking at your shopping habits and compare it to how you throw things out. The most important thing about this step is to be objective! The emotional part of your brain is very sensitive to criticism, so you can greatly affect your motivation if you start judging and shaming where you are. Take this step on like a scientist gathering data. Get curious about yourself and see what you find!
- Pick The Just Right Challenge. Once you gather data and know your baseline, set a “just-right” challenge. If you pick a challenge that is too big and too extreme, the brain will basically say, “Yeah right. Fat chance!” and will not engage--or perhaps engage for a day or two and then fall into old habits. For example, if you want to stop eating sugar and say, “As of today I will no longer eat ANYTHING that has sugar in it” your brain may cooperate with your will for a day, and then go to the other extreme where you find yourself gorging yourself on snickers bars. A “Just right” challenge excites you because it is slightly our of your reach, but engages your brain and makes it willing to play. Using this example, when you gathered data maybe you found that you were eating 5 snickers bars a week, always after having a conversation with your mom. The “just right” challenge in this case may be to stop speaking to your mother......no, not really. But to strategize around this. Either, have something healthier on hand when you know you are going to speak with your mother, and commit to eating 4 snickers bars a week instead of 5. When you are consistently able to eat only 4, then move towards eating 3. 3 snickers is not easily accessible unless you can consistently do 4.
- Easy Does It. Growth does not only happen in stress. More and more research shows that the “No Pain, No Gain” mentality does not work for lasting change. Think about every action having an equal and opposite reaction. If you are reacting strongly to a challenge, perhaps it is time to consider a more success inducing challenge. Self compassion is important here. You are human, you have practiced the behavior that you are trying to change. You don’t yell at a kid for falling when they are learning to walk. Falling is part of the process of gaining mastery. Get curious and say, “Hmmmm. So I fell into an old habit. What happened and how can I do it differently next time?”, get creative, let it go and move on.
- Move At The PACE That Is Right For You. This is not a race, and this is not a competition. In fact, competition kills creativity and fun. When you become solely goal oriented you activate the competitive aspects of the left brain and lose the novelty seeking and process oriented gifts of the right brain. Ben and Jerry’s said it best when they made the bumper sticker, “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it”. In the process of changing, it is important to move at your own pace. Remember that changing habits is not a new years thing, but a life thing that you want to get better at year after year.
- Get Creative! You are you, and you know yourself best, so in that space when you are doing your best to move from 5 snickers to 4, explore new and novel ways to support this change. Sometimes this can be new activities, and other times it can be about enlisting more help. Some examples can be to: start a journaling practice where you express the resentments that you feel you cannot express in the conversations with your mother, punch a pillow, find a therapist, explore new healthier snack options, enlist a buddy to help keep you accountable, have a dance break after every conversation to stimulate growth of new neural networks---the strategies are limitless and can be tailored to your specific needs and desired outcomes. Have fun getting creative here!
- Make Changes In Your Environment. If you are trying not to eat snickers bars, then stop buying the value pack of snickers at Costco. If you are a writer trying to finish your book, change your writing space. If you are trying to get better at running in the morning before work, set out your clothes, fill up your water bottle, have your keys and ipod by your shoes. Or maybe even go to bed in your work out clothes! New behaviors require new neural nets that are associated with the new behavior. New behaviors require “activation energy”. Activation energy is the energy needed to overcome inertia. When you have practiced something, activation energy is low because the brain has reinforced these pathways and doesn’t have to think. When you are doing something new and it has not been practiced, the energy it takes to move through the resistance to do the new task sometimes can literally feel like moving a mountain. If you are having a hard time getting going, make it was easy as possible to do the task. For any situation, the way to reduce activation energy is to decrease the number of decisions that one has to make to get something done. For the running example, put out a banana, choose your workout clothes the night before, have your music set list made, know the route you’re going to take---do as much as you can before-hand, so all you really need to do is to roll out of bed and go.
- A Little Help From Your Friends. Humans are social beings. Motivation and enjoyment can be greatly enhanced if you have a close friend or two, to go through the process with. If you don’t have friends who are local or have the same goal, you can join a group or a community that has your goal as the central theme. There are a myriad of social and focused groups, there are meet ups for pretty much any kind of interest area. It’s just about tapping into one that you like and creating some alliances.
- A Little Help From Some Furry Friends. This tip does not apply to every behavior change, and it is one that I would like you to consider carefully because this is a commitment that comes with other responsibilities beyond just aiding in changing your habits. That being said, sometimes it is vulnerable to share goals and desires with humans and it may be easier and feel safer to have something to care for and love---that also needs some consistent exercise. Animal companions are helpful in reducing stress, adding companionship and they’re just so fun to have in our lives. If you are not ready to commit to a dog or cat long term, then do not adopt one, but you can sign up to be a foster parent for a doggie or kittie, or perhaps even sign up for a consistent volunteer opportunity where you go and walk dogs or play with cats.
- Celebrate Your Successes, No Matter How “Small” They Seem. This one relates back to the “if it ain’t fun, don’t do it” principle. Too often we reach one goal and then immediately set the bar higher or reach for a more intense goal without really enjoying the fruits of the hard work you have already done. When you celebrate your successes, by sharing them with your friends or marking it with some sort of celebration, you actually anchor the positive change in your body, making it more stable and part of you rather than something that you lose when you stop doing the thing. Celebration and the act of celebrating anchors it and makes you feel the sense of accomplishment that becomes the inherent motivation to keep going.