Have you ever found yourself where you are in your life and wondered, “how the hell did I get here?”
Suddenly the thoughts of all your life events that had transpired is pouring out of your memory banks. All those activities you did, the things you said, the circumstances that have been thrown your way, the choices you made, and all those little things that brought you to where you are RIGHT NOW.
Does that really answer the question of how you got to where you are today? Is it possible that the little things you do on a daily basis led you to where you are today?
Chances are that you’re denying that the little things you do everyday is responsible for the city you currently live in, the amount of money sitting in your bank account, and the number that shows up when you’re standing on the weight scale. It’s easy to point out because “that” happened or he/she did “this” and this why you are where you are today.
The reality is that blaming others for your circumstances is really avoiding the responsibility of your own life. We all make choices that lead to our present. Any denial? This is your underestimation of the power of habit.
Understand the Subconscious Mind by Realizing the Power of Habit
The funny thing about the conscious mind is that it is only in control of 5% of the things that are going on in the brain. It is the subconscious mind that dominates all aspects of our lives. It is the subconscious that puts one foot in front of the other as you walk. It is the subconscious that beats our hearts, expands and contracts the lungs…performs the millions of the functions of the body to keep it running smoothly.
In addition to bodily functions, the subconscious mind is responsible for repetitive behavior patterns such as the way we chew our food, the way we hold our pen as we write, and the words we use as we speak our language. To sum it up, all the little things that we do without consciously thinking about it are really driven by the unconscious. These behaviors are the ones that influence the direction on our journey in life. Another way of describing those repetitive behaviors are Habits.
Whether you like it or not, the reality is that our subconscious minds is a powerful influence in our life. Isn’t that a scary thought? It’s almost like we are machines that do repetitive things on a daily basis and we are not aware of it.
Just how powerful are these habits?
Isn’t it any wonder why we keep delivering the same results on a consistent basis? This applies to the little things like grabbing a snack because you’re hungry or making our morning coffee with a specific amount of cream or sugar. What about lighting that cigarette as soon as stepping outside? Or being broke all the time?
Imagine yourself in a boat with the sails set in a specific direction toward the desired destination. The boat can encounter multiple storms during the journey and every time the boat has been knocked around you automatically alter the course to set yourself back to the desired destination. Even the tiniest little difference in the sails can take you off course by thousands of miles. Alternatively, If you don’t like the destination, you can always change it.
The direction of sails represents the habits that you perform on a daily basis. The eventual results you get in your life is the destination you reach with the boat. Don’t you see how powerful habits can be in your life?
It can be the difference of why someone makes a living as a construction worker or a professional hockey player. It all comes down to the choices they made and the habits they developed over the course of time. The conscious may be aware of some things it is doing but doesn’t always understand why and often struggles to permanently change it when it wants to change it.
By understanding how powerful habits are, it may be just the nudge to influence the change in your life. The first step to changing a habit is to understanding how behaviors are developed.
How are Habits made?
There are two basic ways habits are developed: one is instant impact, and the other is gradual progression. There are variety of ways that habits are developed, but both methods fall somewhere within the range of instant impact on one end and gradual progression on the other end.
The Instant Impact
One example of the instant impact is the true story of Mary (her real name is not disclosed to protect her privacy). Mary’s instant behavior changed after a sexual assault incident during her teenage years and she instantly changed her behavior without knowing it. Shortly after that incident, Mary started to change her eating and physical habits. As a result, Mary slowly gained weight and gradually got unhealthier.
What was really happening was that her unconscious mind had activated a defense mechanism to prevent or discourage future sexual assault incidents. She eventually became overweight which made her less attractive than her potential, and the good thing is she did not experience another incident since then. After more than 10 years later, Mary had successfully lost weight only to gain it back multiple times because she has regressed from the successful behaviours into her old patterns.
This incident continues to have an impact on her as she continues to make unhealthy choices when she is under stress. This story demonstrates that the development of a habit from instant impact method is caused by a shock factor which influence the behavior change in order to ease the pain which the mind has suffered. Often times these behavior changes are made without awareness because it is the unconscious mind that created the change. It is much more difficult to correct the behavior to healthier options due to the nature of the shock factor, thus Mary must take on deeper methods for corrections.
The Gradual Progression
A perfect example of gradual progression is how I trained myself to making a habit of working out on a daily basis. This is the result of the gradual progression method of changing a habit, and all it really is making a simple change and sticking with that change on a regular basis.
It all starts with doing it. I simply decided what part of my day a 30-minute workout would fit best into and then I committed to working out on the treadmill. The first day was easy and it felt good. The next day was a little bit harder to start, but it was still easy to do. Eventually, when the fifth day came around, I talked myself out of working out because I was feeling sore. It’s okay to take a rest. Then I made a mistake because I decided to skip the next day too of working out and it got very difficult to start again.
The momentum has been killed at that point, so it was back to square one. A return to the consistent daily commitment was required to get going on a regular basis. I had returned to the daily routine and stuck with that commitment as consistently as possible. I took care of my body by changing the workout (to focus on different parts of my body) and took only one day of rest per week. After 30 of days following that routine, it got easier to be consistent. By the time the 90th day rolled around, it became something that I looked forward to. Now I just don’t think much about doing it. I just do it.
It has now become a habit to the point where it feels awkward not doing a workout for two days or more. Doing the simple things is easy to do and it is also easy not to do. For example, eating an apple is easy. Committing to eating an apple everyday is a very simple thing to do, but eventually to do it daily becomes very difficult because it’s easy not to do.
To sum it up, the gradual progression method of developing habits is to simply do the same thing repeatedly until you don’t even have to be conscious to do it. This is how you can create a major impact on your future. By making that tiny change, it altered the sails to my life towards a healthier, happier and more active lifestyle.
How can you course correct your future destination?
That’s a whole other blog post, so please stay tuned for the next blog – “The Four Stages of a Habit”. In it, you will explore the different stages of the development of a habit. By knowing that, you will further your understanding of what to expect during the process of changing or developing a habit.