I have one bad habit. Ok, I have plenty of bad habits, but I have one in particular that really bothers me. I rip the skin off around my fingernails when I’m stressed (or breathing or existing or at any point in time, really). It hurts and bleeds, but I keep on ripping.
I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. So long, in fact, that the healed skin around my nail beds is lighter than the rest of my fingers. My pigment gave up, I guess. It’s pitiful.
Sadly, I don’t even know when I’m doing it anymore. It’s completely automatic and involuntary, and I’ve tried stopping so many time. It’s just a really, really bad habit.
All that to say, bad habits are hard to break and healthy habits are hard to create. Both take major discipline.
Today, I’m going to lay out what happens in our brains when we start introducing liturgy intentionally into our lives – when we embark on the journey of habit making or habit breaking. I’ll also include 3 ways to be content by adding structure to your life.
If you want to take the next step and actually implement all these ideas, feel free to sign up for my free mini-course: 7 Practical Ways to Build Healthy Habits. In the course, we will cover everything you need to know to build good habits, break bad ones and be more content in 2017 (no new-years resolution necessary). Sign up here:
How Does Habit Work: A Look at the Brain
Practice may not make an action perfect, but it can certainly make it automatic.
Our brains are intelligent creatures. We have the ability to automate a full range of actions from rolling a cigar to proving complex mathematical theorems. In fact, once something becomes habitual, it takes great effort to break the habit. This is why bad habits (like me ripping my skin off) are such a pain in the butt.
Our brains process habitual actions through the basal ganglia, which is a little jumble of stuff right in the center of the brain. You are literally on autopilot when you put on your shoes, brush your teeth or drive. In this state of habit, our brains do not experience any reward for the action we’re doing.
When we do something that is not habitual, like land a new client or throw a birthday party, our brains function out of the prefrontal cortex (your forehead area). In this state, our brains send fast and strong reward signals when we accomplish something.
It’s like knitting a garment. All the individual stitches are automatic. Each finished row is a tiny bit exciting but still automatic. It takes no brain space. BUT when you finish the garment (which is not something that happens very often if you are a knitter like me) you are so freaking excited!!!
In life, we are obligated to do a lot of things. We have to eat, we have to answer emails, we have to figure out a way to make money. We have to be somewhat healthy, so we don’t die. Blah blah blah. This list goes on. Each task is another stitch in the garment we’re creating.
So, pick your battles. Your brain has the ability to automate most of those obligatory things. Would you rather your brain reward you for the mundane things or the accomplishments?
Utilizing habit saves brain space for things like solving problems, learning, and moving forward. This makes for an overall less stressful, more enjoyable and more content life.
3 Other Benefits of Healthy Habits that Lead to Contentment
Creates Unity, Stability and Identity
Discipline and habits are very important for children. This is widely understood and appreciated. With adults, however, the importance of discipline and habits is underrated. Creating family routines and rituals (whether you have children or not) can lead to overall healthy family identity. Your kids will feel like they belong.
Family routines also maintain stability during transitions or stressful events.
Sticking to your habits helps build momentum. You do the same small things every day. Eventually, you don’t even think about them anymore, but they’re still moving you forward subconsciously. They build on each other, and you reach a goal!
When you do reach that goal, your brain is going to reward you, and you’ll have the motivation to do it all again. Each time, you’ll feel more and more accomplished and motivated. It’s a nice cycle.
Essentially Less Work
Because you’ll be using your habits to reach your goals, you’ll essentially be doing less work. Once something is a habit, you do it efficiently. It takes up very little brain space. So, you’re doing fast work with more reward.
What We’ve Learned So Far
Here is what we’ve learned in the last two posts. (The words liturgy, habit and discipline are all pointed to the word structure, so that’s the word I’m going to use.)
The Liturgy Post
- Structure is a framework by which we function. It gives us a path to walk.
- Structure is the training ground. It teaches us how to handle life.
- Structure protects. When life gives us lemons, we know what we’re really worth.
- Structure makes it easy for everyone to assimilate.
- Structure is what makes the world go round.
- Structure is meant to be done communally.
- Structure automates the obligatory
- Structure rewards accomplishments.
- Structure builds momentum.
- Structure creates stability in the home.
All of the things in the above list lead to more contentment. And with 2017 right around the corner, they might be just what you need for the new year. In the next post, we’ll talk about why the home is the most important place to implement structure. Doing so, your family will be more content and will be able to teach others to do the same.
Psst!! Don’t forget to sign up for the free mini-course: 7 Practical Ways to Build Healthy Habits.