Warning: Self Improvement Can Be Habit Forming
July 6, 2011 Leave a comment
Before I started this blog, I thought about leadership and things that I liked in leaders and of course, like everyone, the things I didn’t like in leaders. But applying it was always sort of an afterthought. One of the methods I always used to study in school was to take notes as I read through articles and textbooks, forcing my brain to pause and digest the information. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that writing about leadership has had the same effect on my ability to process the topic. It’s now on my mind all the time and I’m seeing examples and lessons where I probably wouldn’t have before.
The brain is configured to resist change. Without boring you too much with the scientific details, the hypothalamus works to remind the brain that the behavior and routines that got you where you are have kept you alive thus far and tells you that you should probably just keep doing what you’re doing. Making rapid or dramatic changes can result in stress, which is your brain’s way of trying to tell you that something isn’t a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, but your brain has never experienced it so it doesn’t have any information to tell you that it is, and as a result it takes a protective stance. This is why, for example, people who go from a routine that doesn’t include a workout find it difficult to get a workout routine together when they start off by saying “I’m going to start working out 5 days a week!” Conversely, this is also why it’s easier for someone whose routine has included 5-day-a-week workouts for some time to keep up the momentum.
But you can train your brain in tiny steps. If you’re interested in something, and it’s on your brain enough even subconsciously, you start to see it wherever you go. It’s kind of like the ads that appear on the internet because of some content you’ve visited before. I’ve booked so many Disney trips that I can’t even open a browser without an ad for Walt Disney World appearing (maybe it’s working and that’s why I go back so much…?). Your browser learns what you’ve been searching for and reading about, and serves up ads for you even when you’re not really thinking about that topic, like when you’re on facebook. Your brain can be trained in the same way when you focus it on a topic. I trained my brain on the concept of leadership, and now it seems to jump out at me wherever I go. Now, I’m training myself on my values by consciously using them while I process information and make decisions so that eventually they become ingrained in my thought process consciously or unconsciously.
What would you like your brain to focus on? A workout routine? A diet? Learning a new language? Studying something? Devote the time to it up front, using whatever method is best for you to make sure your brain is processing the information. For me, it’s writing it, for you maybe it’s reciting it to yourself, talking about it with others, or maybe just reading about it works for you. If you devote the time up front and get your brain honed in on the topic, you’ll see a compounding effect on every step you take toward your goal.