If you try to make massive habit changes all at once, you’re going to fail. Your new habits will only last a few weeks because massive habit change consumes an enormous amount of brain fuel.
Creating even just one new habit is a brain energy hog – it sucks up a lot of the glucose and oxygen (brain fuel) that the brain desperately needs for other vital tasks.
Eventually the prefrontal cortex will send a directive to the basal ganglia (habit command and control center and energy efficiency manager for the brain) that this new massive habit change is consuming too much brain fuel and the basal ganglia will relentlessly hen peck you until it succeeds in forcing you back to your old habits, which do not consume much fuel.
Therefore, the key to lasting habit change is to prevent the prefrontal cortex from putting the basal ganglia on high alert. In other words, you’ve got to keep your habit change below the radar, so to speak.
There are two ways to change a habit without going to war with your prefrontal cortex:
- Make The New Habit Easy – If your new habit consumes very little time and effort, your prefrontal cortex won’t take notice. For example, if you want to read 30 minutes a day to learn, so that you can become more successful, don’t. Instead, read ten minutes a day. Do this for about a month. Why one month? After one month, a new neural pathway will form. Only a few neurons will be involved, too few to get the attention of the prefrontal cortex or basal ganglia. The following month increase your reading to fifteen minutes a day. This will force the brain to add a few more new neurons, too few to create a fuss. After five months you will have forged a new, powerful habit. You can use this example for forging other new daily habits, such as exercise.
- Habit Stack – Habit Stacking occurs when you add a new habit to an existing habit. Think of an existing habit as a train on a track, except it’s inside your brain. If you add your new habit to that same train, as if it were a new passenger, the brain won’t put up a fight because you’re not trying to take control of the train or the track. You’re just taking a ride. When an old habit does not perceive a new habit as a threat, the prefrontal cortex does not wage war against the formation of that new habit.