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The Science of Habits

by Janine Basel

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There is no secret recipe or magic wand to good habits. Scientists can do all the research in the world and make recommendations, but the real power lies within each of us. By nature, human behaviour is made up of choices, and of course, behaviour and motivations differ from person to person. How do we go about developing good habits?

In this article, I give the accepted standard of setting ourselves up for success. These are good tools for re-shaping and making new habits.

Neurologically, the areas of habit reside in the basal ganglia and the brain stem. The good news is that through research we know the secret to putting this to good use. Here’s how to take the science of habits and use it to develop good habits:

  • Set a main goal and break it up into small chunks. An example of this is that if you are studying for a final exam, you know upfront the amount of work to be covered, and the amount of time you have to study. Break it down in to daily chunks of work.
  • Make use of cues. For example if you know you work best with classical music or at a certain time of day or in a particular environment. Set it up that once you turn on a particular piece of music this will become your cue to sit down and get seriously studying. You are training your brain to associate that music (or environment etc.) with studying.
  • Limit decision making options. In other words, keep it simple so that you are not wasting time and energy on mundane pointless decision-making that is in fact not furthering your new goal/habit. You want to routinise the unnecessary. For example, Barack Obama deliberately wears only blue and grey, in order to cut down his decision making.
  • Be clear about your motivation for change. This is essential to being able to sustain your change. This will allow you to continue being motivated to bring about this change.
  • Eliminate sources of distraction which can lead to an “Oh what the hell” attitude. If the TV is a source of distraction, then limit the hours it can be on, or remove it altogether. A change the environment may also be best.
  • Try an “if-then” scenario.  If you are normally too tired to begin studying when you get home and all your good intentions generally crumble – give yourself some down time and unwind from the day. Make some dinner and relax over a cup of coffee. This will help refresh you and you’ll be able to concentrate long enough to have a productive study session.

Don’t beat yourself up about any slip-ups; rather get back in the saddle and continue with a positive attitude.

A last piece of advice which has had numerous studies confirming its validity is the value of mental simulations i.e. spending a few minutes each day, visualizing the achievement of a specific goal. The link between thought and action has proved reliable in terms of the outcome of the goal achievement and thereby reduces anxiety and enhances planning. Click here for the article.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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