I’ve been writing blog posts about habits and how to foster good ones in your life, . . . but why is this important in the first place?
As usual, James Clear has the answer. Here’s another tidbit of wisdom from his book Atomic Habits:
“Habit formation is incredibly useful because the conscious mind is the bottleneck of the brain. It can only pay attention to one problem at a time. As a result, your brain is always working to preserve your conscious attention for whatever task is most essential. Whenever possible, the conscious mind likes to pawn off tasks to the nonconscious mind to do automatically. This is precisely what happens when a habit is formed. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.”
What this means is that you can choose to form good habits, or your brain will form habits that are not of your choosing. Your brain is structured in such a way that habits are mandatory. If we didn’t form habits, we would literally be unable to function, since the conscious mind can’t do everything at once. Since we must, of necessity, have habits, why not put in the effort to make sure they’re good ones, ones that lead you in the direction you want your life to take?
I can see the process of habit formation at play in my own life, and I’m sure you can in yours, too. For example, it’s so much easier to accomplish the tasks I want to accomplish in a day if I have a framework in place of how I want the day to go. I personally use an analog method (paper) of writing a daily to-do list. I also have lists for the week, as well as for the longer term, which I periodically transfer to a particular day. With my plan in hand, I can go about my daily tasks without spending lots of time deciding what to do next every time I finish an activity.
When I was suffering from my arm injury, and later my concussion, there were times when I was unable to keep a to-do list. There was a tangible difference in my days. I found myself spending a lot of time deciding what to do next. Also, I spent a lot of my memory storage space (the brain is not unlimited in capacity!) on trying to keep track of a to-do list in my head. I forgot to do things sometimes, and I had a diminished capacity to manage planning for more than a few hours at a time, let alone a day or a week.
Lets say you have a goal of exercising more. Keep in mind that your body is going to form a habit whether you like it or not. So you can select a time in your calendar and plan to exercise at that time, x days a week, or you can fall into the habit of doing something else at that time. Most likely, that alternate activity won’t be one that helps you along the path to your goal of exercising more. The lesson is, taking the time to form good habits will save you time in the long run and allow your brain to start doing the things you want it to do automatically, without a lot of effort and strain on your part. There might be effort and strain at first, but eventually, it will be a habit, something you just do.
What habits would you like to install in your brain?