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The Truth About Habits: What They Are and How to Change Them (part 1)

We all have habits - some good, some bad. But what are they, exactly? And how can we change them if we want to? In this blog post, we'll explore the truth about habits and what makes them so powerful. We'll also discuss how to go about changing them if they're not serving us in the way that we want them to. Stated simply, habits are actions that we repeat on a regular basis. They are behavior patterns that have become automatic as a result of repeated practice over time and often don’t require conscious thought or intention. While some habits can provide us with advantages (like brushing our teeth before bedtime), others can be detrimental. Habits are, at their core, behavioral patterns that have been repeated over and over until they become automatic. Unlike reflexes, which are relatively simple motor responses organized by the brainstem, habits are learned behaviors that we may not even be aware of until they become a problem or serve us well. Research has shown that up to 70% of our daily activities are driven by habits. So if habits are largely learned, consciously or unconsciously, we have to ask ourselves what is learning? Well, learning is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process by which our nervous system changes in response to experience. When you change something, you are changing the connections between neurons. Neurons are just nerve cells, they communicate with one another by electricity and by sending chemical signals to one another, that inspire the next neuron in the next neuron to either be electrically active or not. Simply put, neuroplasticity is about forming new neural circuits, new pathways by which certain habits are likely to occur, and other ones are less likely to occur. Habits can be difficult to change as they’re deeply-engrained in the brain - formed through a process known as “habit looping”, which consists of three parts: The cue (trigger), the routine (behavior) and the reward (reinforcer). By understanding this process, we can better understand how to break old habits and create new ones. To change a habit, first identify the cue that sets off the routine. This could be something like boredom or stress, or even just a certain time of day. Once you've identified the cue, consider what reward the habit is providing and whether it's a healthy reward or not. If it's not a healthy reward, find an alternative way to meet the same need. For example, if you're reaching for a snack every time you feel bored, find something else that will offer the same satisfaction - like reading a book or going for a walk. Once you have an idea of the habit loop, it's important to start actively working on changing it. This may involve setting new goals or creating a plan that outlines how you'll achieve those goals. It might also involve replacing the old habit with a new one - such as reaching for a healthy snack instead of something unhealthy when bored. Finally, it's important to be patient and consistent when working on habit change. It can take time to break old habits, but with practice and perseverance, it can be done.

Science says that it takes 63 days – or 3 cycles of 21 days – to break down a habit or pattern of thinking. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist and her research showed that while it took about 21 days for new thoughts to form in participants, it took about 63 days for said thoughts to become habits. "It takes three weeks to get gamma peaks in the brain, which means that we can reconceptualize [thoughts]," Dr. Leaf told MindBodyGreen after analyzing brain imaging technology results. "In order to make [the waves] strong enough to impact behavior change, we need another 42 days."

It is clear that habits are powerful things - they shape our lives in many ways. By understanding the truth about habits and how to go about changing them, we can take an active role in creating the life we want. With the right plan and commitment, it's possible to break old habits and form new ones that are more beneficial for us in the long run. If you would like to see how Executive Coaching can help you change your habits and reach your most audacious goals, reach out to me and we can see if coaching is right for you.

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