Strategic Cheating is the Most Effective Way to Forge a New Habit

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The path to habit change is awareness, followed by repetition of the new habit. The more you repeat a behavior, the stronger the neural pathway (synapse) becomes, and the stronger the synapse becomes, the more permanent the habit becomes.

Eventually, strong synapses will be marked as a candidate for a habit by the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia marks a synapse as a habit by reaching its neural tentacles (dendrites) up and out until they touch the synapse. Once this occurs, the synapse becomes a habit and will remain so for most of your life.

It’s not easy to forge a new habit. Some habits take more time to form than others, depending on the complexity of the habit. According to a 2009 University College London study, this habit timeframe can range from 18 – 254 days, with the average being 66 days to forge a habit.

In the early going, forging a new habit requires the brain to work harder than normal. Energy, primarily in the form of glucose, is called upon to power the newly forming habit synapse. Often, during this habit formation process, the brain will fight you, especially when the body’s glucose levels run low. This is commonly referred to as decision fatigue – periods of low willpower.

The trick to habit formation, during periods of low willpower, is to trick the brain into believing there is no need to put up a fight.

This is where Strategic Cheating comes into play.

Strategic Cheating is a habit formation shortcut that avoids decision fatigue and fools the brain into continuing the new habit formation process.

Here’s how it works. Habit formation requires repetitive behavior. Oftentimes, this new behavior requires a commitment of time. Thirty minutes a day of aerobic activity, for example, can quickly deplete the stores of glucose readily available and cause a loss of willpower, triggering the brain to send a signal to other parts of the brain to cease and desist from the new habit formation activity. The key to preventing this from happening is to cheat.

When your willpower energy is low, instead of engaging in 30 minutes of aerobic activity, cheat – only engage in 5 or 10 minutes of aerobic activity. This cheating stops the brain from sending out the cease and desist order and the brain will not fight you or prevent you from engaging in the activity behind the new habit.

Strategic Cheating works in forging new habits by allowing the new synapse to strengthen, without causing decision fatigue. In time, the synapse will strengthen and eventually the basal ganglia will mark it as a habit. Once it is marked as a habit, the brain will no longer fight you when you engage in the habit.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of “Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life”, “Effort-Less Wealth”, “Change Your Habits Change Your Life”, “Rich Habits Poor Habits” and “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.”