As a professional coach and hypnotherapist, I am in the business of helping individuals and groups make the changes they desire. I also know that change is not easy to make for most people, even if they are consciously very committed to making the desired changes.
The reason for this is because of how the brain works. To conserve energy (the brain is a real energy guzzler), the human brain has learned to become very efficient. We are bombarded with billions of bits of information (data) every day. Our conscious brain only processes about 40,000 to 45,000 bits of data every day: it simply doesn’t have enough capacity to process all that information that comes in consciously.
Our brain has become a pattern recognition machine- it instantly recognizes patterns, learned behaviors and memories from the past and takes instantaneous action based on what it predicts to be true. Have you ever startled yourself by imaging a snake on the path only to discover it was merely a piece of rope? That’s your brain in action, habitually and subconsciously protecting you.
The problem arises when habits that might once have served us no longer do. Let’s imagine you desire to skip that chocolate cookie laid out so temptingly in the office break room because you want to lose weight. You know the cookie is going to be there, because someone always brings in sweets to share, and you have set an intention not to eat the cookie. In spite of your best of intentions, you find yourself walking over to the break room to get a cup of coffee and without even thinking about it the cookie is eaten. You sigh with a feeling of disgust and promise to do better next time. But will you?
In the newly published book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Business and Life, Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, explains the science behind why you can’t resist that cookie and how to identify and change the patterns. According to the author, habits make up 40% of our daily routine.
Duhigg describes a Habit Loop: “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.” Once a habit is locked in, the brain anticipates the reward and this creates a neurological craving- and the habit loop starts spinning. To create a new habit is easier than to change a strong old habit. You simply create a cue (each morning when you wake up you put on your jogging shoes), the routine (you head out the door) and you anticipate the reward (how you will look at your high school reunion in two months). Dughigg explains how to change old habits, with compelling examples. I highly recommend his book.