How important are our habits? I assume if you are reading this you are sitting. Let’s do this little test. Sit up comfortably and prop the book open so you can continue to see the instructions. We are going to make 2 simple actions. Make sure that both arms are free to move. Now, touch your nose.
Second action, you are going to touch your nose again. This time with your opposite hand, curling just your ring and middle fingers in, and contact your nose with your pinky finger.
Let’s recap what happened: take an inventory of what hand you used, what fingered touched you nose, how long it took you to figure out how to do it, and if you had to put any conscious thought into the action first action. Now let’s think about the second action. This time did you have to put any conscious thought into the action? Did it take just a little bit longer? Did you have to figure out how to do it?
Both actions are touching your nose, but the first action required nothing from your consciousness. You have long since programmed the habit of touching your nose. When you first started touching your nose, you had every option on the table: all your fingers, with every possible combination of fingers up, fingers down, extension of fingers, moving your head to your fingers and so on. It was probably a big and confusing choice. At a certain point you decided that when touching your nose, the most efficient and effective way to touch was to raise your dominant hand to your head, extend your index finger, and touch your nose.
Your conscious mind has a limited amount of space to solve problems. Imagine for a second that you had to consciously think about every little movement while walking. From where your foot strikes the ground, the bend in your knee, the rotation of hips, the swinging of the arms. This action that we take for granted would take up almost all of our conscious bandwidth. Forget about walking and chewing bubble gum, walking would be incredibly draining. Lucky for us, all of that has been figured out and stored in our subconscious so we can focus on other things.
Our consciousness, which stems from our prefrontal cortex, is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Critical thinking and problem solving have been essential in our rise atop the food chain. If however, we just had that consciousness and nowhere to program things into, our consciousness would be constantly flooded with just the simplest tasks and we would never evolve.
A habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. This is applicable not only in the physical world but the emotional world that revolves in your head. Let’s try another example.
Picture the last verbal argument you had with someone where you were angry. While picturing it, try to go so far as to picture it happening like a movie. You are action as the third person watching this movie unfold. Can you picture remember it? What was the tone of your voice? What were your arms doing? Was your forward wrinkled with brows furrowed in? How loud were you talking? What did your posture look like? Now that you are watching this movie ask yourself, how many of those actions that you noticed yourself doing did you consciously try to do? Did you consciously make a decision to yell, to wrinkle your forehead and so on? Now, stop that movie and really think about the time before that where you were angry. Put that movie in and watch it. Are your actions virtually identical?
You have made a habit, a program, that is downloaded to your subconscious that tells you when you feel a certain brand of anger that you should act a certain way. This isn’t “just your personality” and you weren’t born that way. At some point all of those actions went through your conscious, got approved as acceptable, and downloaded into your subconscious so your conscious could move onto the next item.
This ability to program and move on is what is truly special about our species. Habits give us the ability to conserve that conscious brain power for when more important things arise. According to a Duke University study Habits make up 45% of our daily actions. There is not a more important topic you have heard nothing about until now!
This is an excerpt from my book that I will finish in early 2020!