The Habits we Engage in Map our Brain for Better or Worse.
We all do things by routine. Some of us have great habits we do that serve us well. Others have habits that seem ok in the moment, but then in the end we wonder why we did those things because they have a negative or detrimental effect.
Have you ever told yourself you are only going to have one or two drinks with a friend, but then you end up having more which at the time seems fun, until the next day when the sluggishness and headache occur.
If you do something other than what you say you are going to do, there’s a good chance that your choices come from behaviors that are well practiced. Like a kid taking piano lessons whose instructor urges daily practice, we all practice certain behaviors daily.
We humans love routines as they allow for some predictability in our lives.
(Also one of the reasons the pandemic has been so difficult as many of our routines got turned upside down.) But what routines- or practiced behavior- do is map our brain by forming neural pathways in our brain. In fact, our brains are magnificent mind mapping machines that will form neural pathways that put us ( and our behaviors) on autopilot which can be good in some cases. The positive habits we have serve us well – like brushing our teeth first thing in the morning- and because that behavior becomes habit, we don’t have to think about it.
So when do these mapped neural pathways get us into trouble? Why should we be paying attention to this at all?
It is forming the habit ( practiced behavior) of grabbing the cookie instead of an apple, the habit of shouting at our spouse or kiddo instead of patiently listening or asking questions that cause us to be on auto pilot rather than being present, mindful and engaged to choose the best course of action.
If you are trying to lose weight, be a better partner, become a more patient parent, or otherwise accomplish a goal, you cannot leave your brain parked in idle mode or leave it to the ways you have mapped it through months and years of practiced behaviors.
There are plenty of ways to become more mindful; to take your brain off of autopilot, and to become aware and intentional to MAKE A DIFFERENT CHOICE! And by the way, every time you say no to the cookie, every time you tell yourself you won’t yell at your child or partner, every time you choose the desired behavior that moves you toward your goals, you actually CHANGE YOUR BRAIN! The more you say no to the old, those neural pathways start dying off because they are no longer needed- a function of neuroplasticity.
You are NOT stuck with the brain you have. Or the choices you have “always made.”
Perhaps you might start trying one or more of the following:
1. Get clarity- What is one habit or behavior that is causing harm to your health or relationships that you desire to change?
2. Tell someone you Trust. That will allow for encouragement and accountability as you begin to shift your thinking and choices.
3. Deep Breathe and Pause- Before you reach for the cookie. Stop, pause and ask yourself if this is you on auto pilot, or this is you making an intentional choice. Ask how this would help you meet your goals. If the answer is, it won’t, go do something else.
4. Take Mindfulness Walks- Bring yourself outside, away from your triggers, and notice the environment around you. Smell a flower. Listen to the birds, or neighborhood sounds. Just take it all in, and notice. You may find your senses waking up to something brand new and beautiful.
Mapping your brain did not happen overnight, and neuroplasticity- forming new neural pathways that will serve you better at home, work, in your health and relationships also takes time. Strive today to become aware of one habit that is not serving you well. Imagine yourself with new neural pathways- choosing a walk over a brownie, choosing to listen rather than jump to conclusions or yell… imagine the good that comes from those choices.
It will take time and the more you practice the new behavior the easier and more automatic it will become. If you want a different outcome in any area of your life, work to change your brain to accomplish your goals.
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