Habits can be difficult to form, but we’ve all heard the old platitude of “consistency is key”. Though it can be frustrating to hear when we’re struggling to keep up a habit, it’s undeniably true. This is due to a biological phenomenon called neuroplasticity. The brain is malleable, or “plastic”, similarly to when any plastic object is melted and becomes pliable. This fact allows us to rewire our brains in order to create positive habits. If you are consistent in a particular behaviour you will create new neural pathways that will eventually make it far easier for you to keep up whatever you’re doing. This is entirely scientifically sound and has been proven time and time again. It is dictated by your everyday experiences and the ways in which you treat your mind and body due to the fact that every biological phenomenon is interconnected, including your cognition and the ways in which you speak to yourself. Biology is arguably connected to your spirit as well, and intentionally rewiring your brain can greatly increase your happiness.
It may be helpful to think of your brain as a grassy hiking trail. The more you tread the path, the flatter the grass becomes. The same concept applies if the trail is less tread upon – the grass will remain the same. This metaphor suggests to us that we can change almost anything we’d like to with enough dedication, and also explains why the negative habits that we may have are so difficult to change. As we get older the pathway gets deeper and more instilled into us – habits that we’ve carried into our 50s are harder to change than recent ones. With this knowledge about neuroplasticity and its efficacy we may be able to motivate ourselves to work that little bit harder to change the things that are detrimental to us – we know that it works.
When you create new pathways you naturally weaken old ones. This applies to concrete activities such as exercising or taking up a new hobby, as well as our mental wellbeing. If we are constantly berating ourselves then our brain learns to do so consistently, but if we make an effort to challenge and change our thoughts we can rewire our brains to be more gentle with us. Our bodies are incredible things that work independently whether or not we put in effort – our nervous system, for example, works for us automatically. Taking advantage of our plastic brains will allow us to run on autopilot for the better, and the things that we believe to be fact will change.
The easiest way to start changing deeply ingrained habits is to take the path of least resistance to conserve mental energy. This will also stop you from setting your expectations of yourself too high, which can deter us from changing. It is estimated that by the age of 30 90% of our habits are recycled from past experience. Understanding the nature and malleability of our brains is essential to success in changing our habits – it is entirely possible no matter how difficult it may seem when you begin.Fit50 Survey