Have you ever driven home from work and realized as you turn off the motor that you don’t even remember the trip. You were thinking about important things, or maybe just singing along with the radio, and suddenly you were home!
Did it make you wonder if you ran a red-light or sped past a police cruiser? Did it make you worry that you were not being smart?
You’re smarter than you think.
Here’s an example. Athletes constantly have to change their workouts in order to fool their brains. If they always do the same exercises the same way, their brains start automatically adjusting their movements to make them more efficient or easier and therefore less of a workout.
That’s because a wonderful, powerful part of the brain is unconscious, kind of like the part that keeps your heart beating and makes you breathe, only smarter.
It’s the magical place where habits form. It takes difficult routines you have to think about and programs them into a small part of the unconscious brain called the basal ganglia to make them automatic.
These routines help you walk and chew gum. Or drive a car while talking. Or type without thinking, like I’m doing now.
Scientists estimate as much as 40% of our daily behavior is automatic, from putting toothpaste on your toothbrush to buttoning your shirt to backing the car out of the driveway.
Here’s where it gets fun.
Now that we know this, what can we do with it? Well, for one thing, we can create habits that help us. We can automate good things of our own choosing. It’s like having a superbrain, two brains working together, the conscious and unconscious.
I know a prolific songwriter that gets up every morning and writes until noon whether he feels like it or not. It’s a good habit that many creative people make. Write every day at the same time.
What happens is your brain begins to anticipate the habit and gets ready for it. All day and all night subconscious bits are stored for creative time. When you show up, all parts of your brain help out in harmony without having to waste time wondering when, where or whether you will write.
But it works for anything. Try setting up your workout clothes by your bed so you roll out and into them. You will trigger a habit that will fire up your willpower automatically every morning.
Create a habit of eating well. Create a routine of listening to audio books in the car on the way to work. Create habits to balance your checkbook or . . . well, you can make your own habits.
The thing is, we’re making them anyway, whether we think about it or not.
So, what happens when we make bad habits? Believe it or not, the latest research gets even more exciting about changing destructive behavior.
Check back in tomorrow and I’ll tell you a great story about Lisa Allen’s transformation.
Photo: Schrödinger Equation by Bill Burris via Flickr