Why Changing Habits Is Difficult – Partem

The highway of your brain.

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The brain is an amazing organ that is made up of a complex network of billions cells. Our brain is where we create our world. Where we define true success and the experience of happiness. But the brain can also be used as a tool to make the changes we want, if we just understand a little bit more about what is going on up there!

1. The perpetual active brain

Our brain is always online. And while it is on, it is receiving so much messages that it needs to find ways of filtering out what is important, to avoid all systems crashing.

After filtering, the brain works like a automated response program. It processes and interprets the incoming messages, chooses the best response and sends out a messages to the rest of the body to get into action. To be able to manage this, our brain develops automated cycles of message, process and response. Most of what we think, feel and do on a daily base are interconnected automated responses while navigating through familiar incentives.

2. Internal navigation system

Now imagine your brain as an enormous command center. The complex network of connections between our thoughts, feelings and behavior are busy roads with 24 hour commutes.

When we are young, only some basic roads exist. With every experience, we form new roads. These roads connect different thoughts, feeling and actions to each other. Later, as we encounter some experiences more often than others, patterns form. When a pattern is formed it means the reaction to an incoming message triggers an automated response of thoughts feelings and actions. When a pattern is formed,  traffic on those roads connecting those thoughts, feelings and actions, becomes busier.

While your grow up, a complex network is evolving. But our brain is smart. It creates a self-learning navigation system and it remembers which routes are the best to take.

3. Creating habits

Those roads are out into the brains list of favorites. The brain makes it a habit to take its favorite roads and invests in maintaining and expanding these roads. This is how your brain creates habits. Let’s call these habits, these favorite roads the highways of the brain.

In the command centre they love sending you via these highways, they are fast, save time and will get you to your destination with minimum hassle.

The brain even rewards us for the saved energy in the form of hormones that make us feel happy. That makes us want to take the highway every day. This is how habit are reinforced.

4. Autopilot

To make it even easier, autopilot routes are created. We don’t even think about what we do. We don’t realize we take the highway. We just get into the car and boom…we are there.

Ever had that feeling that you got in your car, arrived at your work but had no recollection of how you got there? That is autopilot. This is how we stay functional., because if we would have to think about everything we do, all the time, we wouldn’t get anywhere. We wouldn’t survive.

This brain-hack is responsible for developing almost unconscious patterns of thoughts and feelings, followed by action. Our brain simply favors using the connections that are the strongest. This is why we keep doing the same things over and over again. We feel comfortable doing it. We even get rewarded with dopamine, an addictive hormone that makes us feel happy. This reinforcement with hormones makes our habits so dear to us, even if we know they are not getting us where we want to be.

5. Navigation reloading……

After puberty the brain loses most of its ability to create new highways. That is why, when we suddenly decide to go off road or change the destination in our adult life, our brain gets confused. It doesn’t know what to expect. The route is not recognized and the brain will be convinced a mistake has made. It starts strongly advising you to take a u-turn back to familiar territory. “Why the backroad?” it interferes. What’s wrong with that beautiful highway I create for you? Where do you think you are going? And than your brain stalls.

That is bad news when it comes to making changes in your daily routine. When we suddenly try to do something different, our brain finds it incredibly hard to construct new roads and routes and update them to its map. That is why even if you know that it is better for you, it doesn’t feel better.

6. Uploading new software – making changes

The good news is, the network system is designed for innovation and is still able to update its software, even in adulthood. If we provide the brain with the right destination (positive goals) and enough fuel (motivation), our brain wants us to move forward in the right direction and will create space for new updates to the navigation system.

Even better, if we persist in taking that new road, our brain will start working with us. It provides resources to maintain the new road and eventually upgrade it to a highway. As extra bonus it will return to rewarding us in the form of dopamine to stimulate us to take this new route instead of the old one.

7. Replacing old habits with better ones

The option to change our habits for the better is programmed in. And once we adapted to that new habit, our brain supports us in maintaining it. This makes it a lot easier to keep up with the changes you made, if only you can resist that uncomfortable crave to go back to your old ways long enough.

Even better news: by changing only one road, we can change the whole route. This means if we make a change in 1 area of our brain, other area’s will follow. Once one road is changed, your brain is programmed to make different connections to get you to you destination as fast as possible.

This means we can change the most complex patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings by making just a simple change in just one area.

If you start thinking differently, you feel different and make different choices. If you can teach yourself bad habits, why wouldn’t you use this  same mechanism for growth. If we have the right motivation, our brain will help us change!

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