by Angela Reed-Fox
As we’ve discussed with this series on willpower, sometimes you’ll have plenty of willpower and sometimes you won’t. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain associated with balancing judgment, decision-making, and willpower (all of the grown-up stuff!)
As the day wears on and you make more decisions (using more judgement) you become less able to make good decisions and resist temptation. This means you might need a plan B.
Today is Plan B Day.
Every day we’re bombarded with information – but we if we had to make active decisions every time we came up against new information, heads would be exploding all over. To avoid this, our brain is adept at building habits. Habits are a lot like computer code - “when this happens, do this”. Can you remember which shoe you put on first this morning? Or which arm went into your sleeve first? I’d be surprised if you can remember that specific event – because it happens by habit. It would be very surprising indeed if you made a conscious decision to put your left arm in first for example thirning for a bit of a change. You probably just did it ‘without thinking’. That means you have a habit there. And most of the things you’ll do today will be filed under ‘habits’.
The good thing about this? If you’re not thinking about it, you’re not having to make a good decision or expending effort resisting temptation. So there’s power in habits. Habits are your key to success; they will reduce the number of active decisions you make each day, and they reduce the number of times you’ll be tempted – because you’ll be making your breakfast without wondering what you’re going to have, for example.
So how do we build a habit?
There are several components involved:
1. Your goal
You need to refine your goal so you’ll know when you’ve reached it. If it’s a big goal (and that’s OK), you might need to chop it up into smaller goals. For example, if you want to run a marathon from scratch, you’d have mini goals of being able to run a quarter of a mile, then a mile, then 5 miles, and so on. Ultimately your goals is to run your goal distance in the time you desire. You need a goal to determine what habits you’re going to need to build.
2. Small, sustainable changes
How can you achieve your goal by making manageable changes to your lifestyle? Small er changes sustained over a long period are far more effective than drastic changes maintained for only a few weeks.
3. Create the habit
If you’re interested in more information on habit-building, I highly recommend The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Habits take time to embed into our lives. Easy ones will be quicker than the trickier ones. Give yourself time and patience. Plan for those times when you miss the mark, but celebrate those days when you don’t - and start celebrating from day 1.