One of the most fundamental components to our self improvement is our habits, and today I hope to offer a new more technical perspective around them.
First we need to understand what a habit is and its purpose. A habit is simply our patterned way of doing something. We usually think of habits through the lens of the actions we take, but it also includes the recurring patterns of our thoughts and feelings.
The reason we have habits is because they provide a cognitive shortcut for the brain. If you do the same thing over and over again it becomes inefficient for you to have to think about it every single time. Therefore, a habit is an unconscious way for your brain to do something consistently without the demands of your logical reasoning.
This process is so strong that our brain’s natural state is to drive things to automaticity. It prefers that things become habits. But the conflict of that is - When we have ingrained habits, the brain also prefers to maintain them as is.
Given that this is a psychological process, there are different levels of depth that correspond with your habits. While there’s no perfect rule, it’s generally accepted that you can form a habit in 21 days or 21 significant instances of doing something. Workout for 21 days and you’re in a habit. Cold call for 21 days and you're in a habit. You’ll know it has become a habit because the resistance to doing it has decreased. It no longer feels so uncomfortable or painful to do. This suggests that your unconscious mind is now more supportive of this new habit and is permitting it rather than trying to prevent it.
But then there’s another layer to habit formation that happens at around 300 days or instances. When you’ve done something so many times, for so long, it eventually creates a compulsion. It gets to the point that it makes you feel uncomfortable when you don’t do it. This creates identity based behavior change - Your sense of self becomes so closely tied into your behavior that they are codependent.
This is a powerful threshold to hit when you have it working for you, but it also can be dangerous if this is the relationship you have with bad habits (which many of us do).
This is why consistency is key. Everything you do is providing a vote for your habits. Your subconscious mind is always using your actions to determine your identity. Harness it in the right ways and you’ll start seeing everything transform around you.
The topic covered today, as well as many topics surrounding it like understanding the root of self-sabotage, the identity behavior feedback loop, and even a bit more about me and my background was featured in an interview I did for another podcast with my friends at The Alignment Show. If you’re curious to check that out, I’m linking two different ways for you to give that a listen.