We all have habits. We try to kick and break our bad ones, and form and reinforce those that are good. We have habitual ways of eating. Ever try to eat using your non-dominant hand? We have habitual ways of driving. Ever start driving to work on your day off before you realized you were supposed to be going someplace else? We use words in a habitual way, we make decisions in a habitual way, and we have habits that affect when we eat, go to bed, and get up. We have routine ways of thinking, acting, perceiving, and focusing that we tend not to be aware of at a conscious level. The habitual manners in which we interact and engage with our world have been built up over time, and most are ingrained to such a great extent that our behavior is many respects on autopilot.
A habit is actually just a pattern that has been developed through repetition. Have you ever heard the term “repetition is the mother of skill” or “practice makes perfect?” As a patterned habit is reinforced, it becomes ingrained deeper and deeper into our subconscious. It is thecontinued repetition of any action or thought that makes that specificaction or thought increasingly natural. This is why habits are hard for some people to recognize and difficult for them to alter.
There’s a saying, “good habits are hard to develop and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to develop and hard to live with.” Yet, doing things in a habitual manner is essential toward our personal development. The more habitual our daily routines and activities become, the less thought and energy we need to use to achieve them freeing up more energy, focus and brainpower to devote to new projects, skills and achievements.
For example; when writing, creative expression can be restrained if you have to concentrate on your typing skills. In another light, by mastering the basic skills of driving a car to the point where it is automatic, you are able to concentrate on conversations with your passengers, study a subject through audio books, or relax and enjoy music. This can all be done without compromising your focus simply because the energy you would use to concentrate on the mechanical actions of driving are automatic from years of practice. In many activities, the more automatic your skills and responses are the more effective you will be.
Let’s take a closer look at the structure we use as we learn.
The process of learning a skill is for the most part gradual and repetitious as we pass through four evolving levels of competence.
The first level is known as “unconscious incompetence.” This is the primary stage where you have no foundation. You are totally unaware that you lack a certain skill or ability.
The second level is “conscious incompetence.” At this level, you lack a particular skill or ability, but know it. You are conscious of your lack of skill. You may even want the desired skill very badly, but are not yet able to move beyond this level.
The third level is “conscious competence.” This is the levelwhere you are well aware of you ability and proficient at it.
The final stage is “unconscious competence”, a level where you do whatever it is in a state of flow, without the struggle of consciousthought to impede your forward direction. You respond naturally in an excellent fashion. You perform as you are at that moment, askilled technician without reflection. This is the state that every great musician, athlete, technician, etc. must reach to be exceptional. You just do it!
It would seem that the more aware we are of our undesirable habits, the more likely we are to adjust or change our unproductive habits and cultivate our positive, more desirable habits. Or are we?
Approximately 95 percent of everything you do is determined by your habits, whether they are good or bad. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. In other words, if you’re not getting the results you want, change your approach. Your ultimate goal is to create and practice good habits that will then function on their own to improve your quality of life and direct you toward success.
One of the most effective methods of changing ones habits is known as a “pattern interrupt”. What exactly is a pattern interrupt? Do you remember vinyl record albums? What happens when you put the needle on the record album? It catches in the grooves, and plays the recording, over and over, the same exact way every time, unless… Unless there is a scratch in the record, right? If there is a scratch, what happens? It skips. Once there is a scratch in the record, once the pattern is interrupted, that record can never be played the same way again. It cannot revert to the old habit.
Consider for a moment the common rubber band. Sitting in the drawer, it looks rather unimpressive, but put it on your wrist and you’re looking at an ingenious tool for transformation. Choose an undesirable habit you wish to change, and prepare to take action! Every time the bad habit or behavior rears it’s ugly head, simply pull back the elastic disciplinary aid and let it SNAP! Once a bright red welt begins to rise on the inside of your wrist, you will begin to see results. At the moment you feel the snap, compound the interruption by saying something like, “that’s not me”, “I’m more than that” or even just “NO”, “erase”, “delete”. Be sure to use emotion in your statement. This will help to connect with your subconscious.
As your pattern is interrupted, it is essential that you support your action with an alternative, i.e. a positive behavioral change. The old, undesirable habit is now given a replacement: a positive, desirable habit. The rubber band is a simple, yet effective pattern interrupter used by thousands. Not surprisingly, the deeper the pattern, the more interruptions or repetitions of the interruption might be necessary. Also not surprising, the pattern interrupt may be more effective if it is, well….. more intrusive or painful. In order to be successful, it may be necessary to perform the pattern interrupt and a mindful habit replacement a few times until you achieve results. Once you begin to see improvements, try using just the disciplinary self-talk or evenvisualizing the interruption program in your mind’s eye. If you find yourself slipping back into your old behavior, run the program again to reinforce your changes.
“Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.”