Highway to Habit

*This piece was originally written for The Summerset Scene magazine - Spring 2022

Imagine you’re taking a walk through a forest. As you begin to wander further in, the bush starts to thicken, covering parts of the track you’re walking on. Eventually, you’re forced to slow almost to a halt as you step over roots and push away branches.

Now imagine you walk through this same track every day for a few weeks. You might bring some tools with you to remove branches and make it easier for you to walk along the overgrown path. At some point, the section of the path that was once overgrown, is now clear and is easy to navigate with the same amount of energy as any other part.

This is what building a new habit feels like.

To the brain, building new habits is expensive. It requires more energy to create a new habit than it does to carry on doing what we already do. This applies to breaking old habits too, which makes sense when you think about it. Could you imagine having to use as much energy to focus on brushing your teeth every day as you do when learning to cook a new recipe?

Building a new habit or breaking an old one is akin to clearing the forest path of bushes and branches and laying a new one to walk along. When we first start a new habit, things can be clunky. It takes time for our brain to rewire and form new pathways, but how much time depends on what the activity is.

Fortunately, there are ways to trick ourselves into forming better habits or make it easier for us to do more of the activities we enjoy.

I’m currently learning to play the piano, and I’ve noticed that since moving my keyboard out of the cupboard and into my bedroom, I’m tickling the ivories much more.

My wife has begun a new training programme. Instead of packing her exercise gear away after each session, she leaves it right next to the couch, so if she forgets, the equipment serves as a passive reminder.

Leaving your walking shoes by the front door, having the meal ingredients you want to cook out in plain sight, or putting your gardening gloves on the door handle are all ways you can support yourself in picking up new habits. Doing so makes it easier for you to fall into the things you want to do more, because you spend less energy on getting started.

By now you’re probably thinking of at least one thing you’d like to do more of. How can you make your path to starting your new habit clearer, smoother and even effortless?

*This article was originally written for Summerset New Zealand