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If You Think Building Habits Can Help You Reach Goals, This Will Change Your Mind

If You Think Building Habits Can Help You Reach Goals, This Will Change Your Mind

Usually when we want to achieve something, we try hard to build some habits, as we’re told that habits are the fundamentals of success. However, if we examine the functions of different parts of our brains, habits turn out to be something that hinder us in achieving our goals rather than assisting us. When we’re practicing our habits, we’re actually using the primitive brain, which is not the preferred one for achieving goals…Here’s why.

First we need to understand how our primitive brain works.

The “Primitive Brain”

The human primitive brain, otherwise known as the limbic system, has developed over millions of years. Our ancestors had three straight forward goals that they needed to keep in mind if they were going to survive. These goals were:

  1. Find food
  2. Find a mate
  3. Stay safe from predators

Humans had only their superior intelligence to rely upon. Unlike other animals we did not have great strength or speed, sharp teeth or the like. The primitive brain developed in such a way to help us achieve these three goals.

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When we saw the possibility of acquiring food we experienced high energy levels that prompted us to go after the food. When the potential to reproduce presented itself we experience great desire, and when we felt that we had pushed ourselves too hard we felt the desire to rest.

So our primitive brain is constantly telling us to seek out food and sexual pleasure; it also tells us to rest rather than motivating us to do some exercise.

On the contrary, the modern brain tells us to control ourselves…

The “Modern Brain”

The modern brain, otherwise known as the pre-frontal cortex, developed after many years trying to survive on one’s own. People decided that it would be easier to achieve the three goals of survival if they worked as a group; thus tribes were created.

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As humans started to cooperate and work as a group they needed to learn how to cooperate and work in unison. This meant that it was necessary to learn control over certain actions. Social rules were developed, such as:

  1. Do not seal someone else’s food
  2. Do not take someone else’s mate
  3. Respect others’ property and do not try to steal their shelter

To respect these rules and make sure we did not break them we need to develop a new type of intelligence. This intelligence would be used to control the basic desires of our primitive brain. The new intelligence may be referred to as self-control.

So it is up to the modern brain to override these primitive drives and to steer us towards higher goals. We constantly experience a fight between short-term desires and long-term goals. It is up to the modern brain to consider the consequences of our primitive desires and to make decisions that will help us in the long term.

So How Do Habits Hinder Us?

Habits are formed in the primitive brain and as such do not require thoughts. When we try to use habits to attain our long-term goals we are, in effect, telling our short-term brain to take charge. And the short-term primitive brain has different aims to the long-term modern brain. So the result will not be in keeping with our higher aims.

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When you set out to help your modern brain achieve its goals do not aim to create new habits.

You may have tried meditating at some point in your life and no doubt you experienced the difficulties associated with maintaining focus on one particular thing, for example your breath. Trying to force yourself to concentrate on something will often prove futile. This is because we are fighting a reward-based learning process that is caused by positive and negative reinforcement. A habit is formed when, for example, we see food, eat it and decide that it tastes good. For human being calories equal survival. We remember the rewards we experienced after we ate the food and repeat this process. It goes as follows: trigger behavior reward; see food, eat food, feel good and repeat. Then what should we do instead of building habits?

Use Curiosity to Break Unwanted Habits

In an experiment researchers told people instead of forcing people to, for example, quit smoking, they told people to be curious about their habits. They actually told people to smoke and be really curious about it. One of the participants said: “Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals,YUCK!” She had decided on a cognitive level that smoking was bad for her. She was no longer captivated by her habit.

When the prefrontal cortex is not engaged we tend to fall back into old habits. When we are tired, stressed or involved in making tough decisions we can easily fall back into our old ways. Curiosity helps us take notice of our experience rather than trying to get rid of the experience (habit).

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As it says in the article titled: Using Curiosity to Break Bad Habits: “What does curiosity feel like?  It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body sensations come and go. These are bite-size pieces of experiences that we can manage from moment to moment rather than getting clobbered by this huge, scary craving that we choke on.”

When we are curious we stop fearing our habits and reacting automatically to our habitual patterns. We activate our modern brain and are able to reflect more effectively on what we are doing in a scientific and isolated way. So next time you experience an unwanted habit or find yourself focused on short-term goals try to engage your long-term modern brain and become curious about what you are doing.

Helpful Guide

Having a goal without good strategies cannot help you achieve what you want. However, with Lifehack Goal Setting System, you can efficiently attain the best result of your desire. For every goal you add, you will receive practical and useful articles that guide you through the process and achieve remarkable outcomes.

To start with, you can try these health goals:

Featured photo credit: http://www.theconnectedfamily.net via static1.squarespace.com

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Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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