I was in the gym one day and overheard the following exchange between a woman and a man:
Woman to Man: “Did you run today?”
Man to Woman: “Not yet. When I’m done lifting I’m going for a run.”
Woman to Man: “You are so disciplined. I wish I had your discipline.”
Man to Woman: “It’s just a habit. No discipline involved. Just habit.”
That one exchange best summarizes the real power of habits.
Habits eliminate the need for discipline, once the habit is formed.
Discipline only works for a short period of time. Eventually the willpower energy that fuels discipline becomes depleted. Once depleted, your desire to engage in any new behavior ends.
When that good behavior, however, becomes a habit, it transforms the behavior from temporary to permanent and makes the need for discipline irrelevant.
In effect, the prefrontal cortex controls all discipline.
The prefrontal cortex is an energy hog, which only has a limited amount of willpower energy at its disposal. When a new behavior is repeated frequently enough, the prefrontal cortex will eventually outsource its control over that new activity to a subconscious brain region called the basil ganglia, which is part of the limbic system. Once the basil ganglia marks the new behavior a habit, the prefrontal cortex ceases control over the activity and the need for discipline is eliminated.
For the man in the gym, he was just engaging in a habit – exercise. He was not relying on discipline at all.
That’s the miracle of habits.
In the beginning, forging a new good habit does require discipline. But once the basil ganglia marks the new behavior a habit, other brain systems take control over the new behavior away from the prefrontal cortex.
Nonetheless, your good habits do give others the perception that you are highly disciplined.