HOW’S YOUR BASAL GANGLIA THESE DAYS?
No, I’m not referring to a new spicy Middle Eastern recipe or the latest group dance done at summer weddings. What I AM referring to, however, has to do with your habits. Yes, your habits. And my habits. And everyone else’s.
“Basal ganglia” is rolling around in my head right now because it is discussed in a new book I’m reading that has kicked up a lot of buzz as of late: “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. This focus on habit is in perfect alignment with my lifelong study of Mastery: in order to do our very best both personally and professionally, it’s necessary to continually examine our habits and understand what prompts and perpetuates them. That allows us to see which habits are serving us well (e.g., reading recreationally on a regular basis) and which habits we’d be better off without (e.g., armed with a giant-sized spoon, digging straight into the ice cream carton whenever nobody’s looking [not that I’ve ever done that!]).
. . . Now back to your “basal ganglia.” The B.G. is actually a small section of neurological tissue in the brain. Turns out it is crucial to recalling patterns and acting on them, storing habits all the while. Duhigg gives us a good working definition of a habit: “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.” The thing about habits is that once we have them, they happen automatically, sometimes without our even being aware of them. As mystery writer Agatha Christie said, “Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.”
So, if habits are so automatic, is it possible to change them? The answer is “yes,” once you understand “The Habit Loop.” All habits have three basic components:
An easy example is your decision to create a new habit to improve your health by exercising, specifically by going running every morning.
A cue you could develop is to slide out of bed and immediately put on your running shoes.
Your routine might be to run around your neighborhood for 30 minutes.
The reward could be fitting into that cute polka dot bathing suit that sat in your drawer all last summer OR a delicious healthful smoothie you can enjoy after each run. (Just remember that the “reward” has to be something that will truly float your own boat, not someone else’s.)
Finally, the glue that binds the loop together and which is essential for the habit to live is that you must develop a “craving” for the reward. As you associate cues with certain rewards over and over, a subconscious craving emerges. In our example here, you must develop a craving for donning that swimsuit or enjoying your smoothie.
So as our summer months arrive, pay attention to your habits and your habit loops.
• Initiate some new positive habits and
• Work to change the cues and routines of those habits that no longer serve you well.
And, hey, in the process, take good care of that basal ganglia, will ya’?
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Let me help you get started with a new habit: how about forwarding my blog to a friend or colleague every time you read it?
Here’s the LOOP:
CUE: You read my “The Art of Mastery” blog.
ROUTINE: You forward it to a friend.
REWARD: The satisfaction of helping someone else create a Life of Mastery!