In the last post I suggested getting in to the habit of breaking habits as a means to stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone but it is a thought worth exploring more because habits and habitual ways of thinking can impact on our ability to grow.
Now, as a general rule, habits and habitual thinking are a good thing. They are the brains way of creating shortcuts in our thinking because, if we had to stop and think about everything we did, we would never get anything done. Imagine getting yourself ready in the morning if you had to consciously process every step – “now I need to take toothbrush, now I need to open toothpaste and squeeze on to toothbrush, now I need to place toothbrush in mouth” etc. Being habitual means we save thinking time.
It is a bit like our brains having a predictive text system. Most of the time it works fine but occasionally it can all go a bit peer sheeped!
Obviously the mind is significantly more complex than predictive text yet there are similarities worth considering when talking about how we form habits. Predictive text starts by using socially accepted use of language that is the most likely words people will use in the context of what has been said before, the more it gets used the more it becomes individualised to a persons use of language based on what they have said before.
We form habits and habitual ways of thinking over many years, our upbringing creates some, our daily lives others, some come from the society we live in and others from our relationships and the people we chose to connect with.
It is very easy to become habitualised. How often do you find yourself saying something one of parents used to say to you repeatedly? Anything that we do, or happens to us, repetitively over time becomes habitual within us, neural pathways are formed in our brains to ease the need to think of everything. This can easily happen without us even knowing or realising, and it is not until we consciously catch ourselves acting in a certain way, like our parents for example.
The problem comes when those habits and habitual ways of thinking work against us. This can happen for a number of reasons, those habits and thoughts may not be appropriate for a new situation we find ourselves in, they could be holding us back from doing something different or they could simply be out of date.
Think about it on a wider social level. We often see stories that older people just don’t understand younger people today (and those stories have been running for decades!). Yet if we think about it when older people developed their habits and ways of thinking the world was very different from now and where younger people are developing their own habits and ways of thinking based on their society today. What was once the default way of thinking can often be defined as prejudice (or an ..ism) in the current way of thinking.
Coming down to the individual level we all have our own habits and habitual ways of thinking yet we need to question whether all of them are still relevant and still work for us in the best possible way. For example the way we do things at work might have been the ideal way of working a few years ago but as things around us have changed we may need to change what we do in order to perform at our best.
If we can take time occasionally, when we catch ourselves doing things automatically, we can review those habits and question whether or not they are still relevant to us. The next time you flick through channels, ask yourself why you don’t stop at a certain one. Is there someone or something you automatically avoid whenever possible? Ask yourself why and if that reason still applies now.
Habits and habitual thinking are, mostly, a good thing but some of those habits develop into bad ones or simply become outdated and not relevant to our lives right now. We may need to develop new habits and new ways of thinking to help us move on in our lives and to achieve whatever it is we have set our sights on.
Getting into the habit of breaking habits allows us to have a reality check on whether or not our automatic behaviours and thoughts are working in the best possible way for us right now.