You Can Change

Have you ever had the feeling of being on autopilot? Do you feel like you’re just “going through the motions”, and not making the impact you dream about? These sensations are partially true—studies show that about 40% of what we do everyday is habitual. We are wired to respond to cues from the world around us, and our brain is designed to stick to patterns of behavior that help us achieve success, in any task. After experiencing the feeling of unconsciously going through life with half of the passion and energy it takes to excel, I looked for answers surrounding the questions I had about why we largely operate on habits, and how to change for the better.

The Power of Habit is the most informative title I’ve read on the subject so far, as journalist Charles Duhigg thoroughly explains the neurological reasoning behind our behavior and how habits shape the individual and the culture at large. Duhigg breaks down how habits inform our personal experiences and influence change, and expounds upon the impact change has on organizations and societies as it relates to transformative habits.

Our brains are always looking for ways to save energy—that’s why certain tasks or groups of tasks seem effortless. For example, as you’re showering and brushing teeth, putting on clothes, getting into your car, and driving off to start your day, you don’t have to exert much brainpower to flow easily through these activities. The human brain has a process called “chunking”, in which a sequence of repeated actions is combined into an automatic routine, and the reward is a completed task. To understand how to free up mental energy, we must address the impact these self-activating routines. If nearly half of our daily activity is an automatic response, how can we incorporate new habits to stimulate change? Duhigg illustrates how transformation happens by plainly laying out the Golden Rule of Habit: you cannot extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

To increase the chance of a changed habit having a radical effect on your life, you must first believe that change is possible. Even when you’re in a mental space of confusion, doubt, worry, or stress, there is always a solution to your circumstance. There is optimism in knowing that your brain will do everything in its power to help you find ease, success, and positive feelings, especially with the added power of belief. Finding and cultivating values that are affirming and uplifting to your self esteem is a worthy journey to embark upon because it allows you to gain awareness and build trust. When you commit to a particular set of values, and follow up on those values with beliefs and habits, you are on the path to maintaining success.

The domino effect of changed habits is evident in the lives of those who have identified where they need adjustments, and built a lifestyle around that need. Find a keystone habit, like exercising or reading daily, that will flow over into other aspects of your life. If you commit to a healthier lifestyle by devoting time daily to exercise, you are more likely to eat healthier, replace unhealthy habits, and feel the change inside and out. Similarly, dedicating at least 30 minutes to an hour a day to reading will help you slow down, be intentional, and allow your mind to expand. A keystone habit helps other habits thrive, creating a new structure or lifestyle within, and establishes cultures where change can spread. Willpower, according to Duhigg, is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. Willpower becomes habit when you choose your behavior ahead of time (i.e., exercising in the morning and reading at night), and then following through with your routine with self-discipline.

Combining the theories on the power of belief and the effectiveness of keystone habits is essentially what it takes to implement lifestyle changes. It is especially rewarding to find like-minded friends and communities that will help you overcome any blocks to your success. Changing habits leads to small wins that can help you uncover opportunities to grow and resources to flourish. You don’t have to go at it alone—find an accountability partner to check in with you on a habit or goal. Find alliances to help you form your routines into automatic habits.

Movements happen when individual habits have an effect on social and community dynamics, which leads to a sense of ownership over fresh lifestyle changes. Over time, you can change an entire community by committing to changing your own habits. The best way to change your habits is to develop self-control, increase self-awareness, and by using willpower to change a routine into an automatic, habitual response. You have the ability to take your life and transform it into something more grand. Charles Duhigg lends us an eye-opening key to living a better life: “The real power of habit is the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be”.