Forming & Changing Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
— Aristotle

The brain evolved to be efficient.  Habit formation reflects that efficiency: 95% of the time you are operating out of habit; 95% of what you are thinking is the same as your thoughts from the day before.  Habitual thoughts and actions conserve a great deal of mental energy so that your mental reservoir is less likely to be depleted when you need it. Habits, therefore, are beneficial, if not essential, to daily living.  Even if you could avoid habituation, you would not want to do so because mere moment-to-moment functioning would become too burdensome.  What high achievers want to change is the nature of their habits because your habits of behavior and habits of thinking determine your effectiveness and your happiness.  The good news from brain science is that the neural pathways establishing habits are constantly formed or reinforced through repetition, emotional significance, and reminders, and that therefore we can intentionally alter those neural pathways through repetition, emotional significance, and reminders.  This is an example of self-directed neuroplasticity.

Habits involve not only our behavior but also our thoughts and feelings.  For example, eating when not hungry or brushing one’s teeth before bedtime are bad and good habits of behavior; optimism/pessimism and growth/fixed mindsets are good/bad habits of thinking.  Predictable impulsive reactions also are habits.

Intentionally altering your existing habits and developing new habits sets a new trajectory towards your achievement of exceptional breakthroughs. The process for making breakthroughs includes (1) defining extraordinary results, (2) practicing systematic abandonment of things that aren't working, and (3) doing something differently.  Item (2) is about habit modification or elimination and item (3) is about habit formation.  All three of these can be achieved with Partners in Thought® support.

Methods for forming desired habits or sustainable behavioral change depend on whether the change is merely technical or adaptive.  Technical change requires tools and procedures for practicing the changed behavior, for establishing environments that facilitate the changed behavior, for optimizing one’s physical condition for such practice, and for establishing reminders and accountability.  Partners in Thought® support includes guided use of self-directed neuroplasticity as to technical changes of habit or behavior.

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Adaptive change, on the other hand, requires self-discovery and a change of mindset so that historical constraints on our desired change can be released.  For adaptive changes, Partners in Thought® tools include the “Immunity to Change” model developed by Harvard psychologists based on modern theories of adult development.  The title of the model is based on the metaphor of our body’s immunity system, designed to protect us.  We maintain a psychological immune system, as well a physical one, that logically and with good intention may be “protecting” us from making the changes we desire. The Immunity to Change process helps you discover and test the hidden assumptions underlying these defense mechanisms, the result of which can be lasting adaptive behavioral change.  Conceptually, the adaptive change is analogous to the eventual acceptance by the body of a transplanted kidney, which initially was rejected by the body’s immune system.

Recent developments in the science of self-regulation and willpower offer additional tools for modifying habits.