Habits run our worlds. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is fascinating and shouldn't be missed. In it, Duhigg details the neuroscience behind how habits develop. Activities, when first performed, are managed by our frontal lobes and then, as we repeat them, are driven down into our more-efficient, faster-firing hippocampus. This saves us staggering amounts of energy and provides freedom to move onto new focuses. I am using this as I type, my fingers flying, knowing exactly where to go to create words without my conscious mind thinking about them at all.
Yet, there is also toxicity in this mechanism. Habits become indelible. They will always be with us. Duhigg describes them as roads running through our subconscious. At the beginning of each is a sign which might read something like, “Stressed out? Smoke a cigarette!” When we are low on energy, or stressed out, we go to the road sign and our frontal lobes defer to the hippocampus and we let it ride. This is why a person trying to quit smoking can do so well for a few days and then, when the stress hits, she might go right back to a habit she knows is killing her. These habits can lift us up, freeing us to think while we type or drive a car, but they can also tear us down. The only way to break a habit is to change the road sign and lay a new road. The old road will always be there.
One of the most toxic habitual states is how we talk to ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, and how we perceive the world. When things happen, as I’ve discussed before, we tell ourselves stories on what those events mean. Those stories are almost never fully accurate, and most of the time are largely off-base. The thing is, we often speak to ourselves with the tone and messaging we were spoken to when we were two and three years old. Our self esteem locks in there, our parents are our Gods and they tell us how to perceive ourselves.
As I stated in a previous post, this is fine for some, as their parents gave them positive messaging, and kindness. Yet, others might have received messages of perfectionism, conditional love, harshness, etc. This habit of self esteem is where we find our emotional home. This is the place we default to when we are stressed out, low on energy, distracted or overwhelmed. My emotional home was a state of low energy and depression. No longer, at least that’s how I’m bending it.
One of my keys is to actively focus on gratitude and positive thoughts… creating a new habit of perceiving what’s right in my world. I need to acknowledge negativity surely. I need to understand what held me back so I can counter it, but at some point I must take up arms and stop the old pattern.
Tomorrow… rewriting old habits…