A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.
What we’re talking about is an actual physical phenomenon. There is neural wiring inside your brain that connects the beginning of an action to the end. If you’re doing something new, your brain has to work really hard and all the neurons along this path are firing. It takes a lot of mental work. But then you do it again, and it’s a little easier. The brain doesn’t have to work quite as hard. A few less neurons fire. Then you do it again and again, and it gets easier and easier and fewer and fewer neurons fire. When something is a habit, just the neurons at beginning and the end of the task fire. The bulk of the action is on autopilot- freeing up all that mental activity.
You’ve experienced this process in your life. I remember when I was learning how to drive– and I learned how to drive on a stick shift. Not only did I have to pay attention to the lights and the signs and the other drivers, but I was also learning how to press in the clutch, put the car in gear, and then step on the gas while releasing the clutch with the right pressure. It was stressful and overwhelming. In the beginning, all I could do was focus on driving. But now? I don’t have to really think about driving. Have you ever gotten in your car in your driveway and arrived at your destination thinking, “How did I get here? I hope I stopped at every light!”
Repetition is the mother of habit. After repeating the act of driving over and over again, driving becomes an automatic and unconscious habit. Only the neurons at the beginning and the end had to fire, and in the meantime you can think about what you have to get from the grocery store and what phone calls you need to make when you get into the office.
Habits are a wonderful productivity tool for the brain. Relying on habit frees up your brain for other activities. It literally saves energy because so many fewer neurons have to fire. A habit is the path of least resistance, and your brain does it easily and automatically— without even thinking about it. You don’t forget to have your morning cup of coffee, and you don’t talk yourself out of brushing your teeth. You can reach that same level of automaticity with any desired feeling, thought, or behavior.
When you want to create a new habit, what you want to do is create a new neural pathway, and the way you do that is through repetition. Your mission is to find a way to repeat your new action often enough so that it becomes a habit.