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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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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