In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that most of what you think you are deciding is actually based on habit. What time you go to bed. What time you wake up. What you eat for breakfast. How you dress for work.
You say decision. Your body says habit.
Your brain depends on you developing habits because habits require a lot less brain power than decisions. Your brain accounts for about 4% of your body mass but requires about 20% of your total glucose for fuel. When your body goes into habit-mode, your brain runs on lower power than when you’re sleeping. Your brain likes this because it frees up glucose to solve new problems.
This sounds great until you try to change a habit. That’s when your brain pushes back. “No,” your brain says. “Let’s keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. It’s so much simpler.”
You want to run in the morning before breakfast. You head out for a day or two, but then your brain overrules and you’re back to breakfast first – and no time for a run.
You’ve read that meditation can help you stay focused and try to sit quietly for a few mornings – but your brain protests. “Why are we just sitting here? Let’s watch the news. That’s always mindless.”
The thing is any new routine requires practice. And if you want to make a change, you have to do it long enough for your brain to calm down and accept the new routine as habit. It might take a week. It might take four weeks. But you can almost feel it when your brain turns the corner. That’s when the running becomes easier. Or you don’t even question taking ten minutes in the morning to meditate.
Bottom line: If you want to yield a different crop, you have to plant a different seed. And that takes effort – the effort to make the change. And the effort to stick with that change until it becomes a habit.
On a side note, I’m reading a great, out-of-print book called Peaceful Mind, Compassionate Heart by Buddhist priest Khen Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan. Here’s my favorite part so far: Every being you meet – human, dog, bug – may have been your mother in a past life. Treat them with that respect.
How about if you add that practice to your new habit list? 🙂
Cheers from Maine on the last 12-hour day/12-hour night of the season.
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