For the past 10 days I’ve limited my time on Instagram and Facebook to 10 minutes total each day; I literally set an alarm and close everything out when it goes off. Limiting my time online is something I’m doing as part of the creativity challenge I’m participating in this month—the idea is that in order to make space for creativity to bloom, my day needs to be free of distractions (which abound online) and habits that eat up time that could be used creating. For the first few days of my self-inflicted limit, 10 minutes flew by and I found myself habitually reaching for my phone to check-in on what each of the apps’ feeds had to offer me.
My awareness of the reach made me able to stop it; almost like I was able to watch my hand reach for my phone in slow motion, and my brain redirected my hand, reminding it, “We’re replacing phone time with reflection or creation, remember?!”
I started thinking about habits in general—how pervasive and powerful they are, which makes sense because they work on a neurological level. I’ve been in awe of our human brains for as long as I can remember; I posted the John Milton quote on my bedroom door when I was in high school, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” It’s so expansive and complex! The reptilian part of our brain is mighty and essential—it keeps us alive, but can also hijack our thoughts, causing us to fear the simple act of being separated from our loved ones (catastrophe thoughts, anyone?). The basal ganglia is a part of the reptilian brain and stores habits. This small golf ball sized oval of cells is where my habit of reaching for my phone is stored, along with other automatic behaviors I don’t have to think about (tying my shoes, brushing my teeth, pouring water from a pitcher, etc.). I suppose I’m working on dismantling some old habits and forming new ones this month. Sure, habits are powerful, but they can also be reshaped. And I’m a firm believer that any habit that isn’t serving you is a habit worth changing.
A key to changing a habit is identifying the trigger or cue that initiates it. In the case of me reaching for my phone, the cue is a lull in activity or a transition from one activity to another. Next, replacing the habit with a more desirable behavior is needed. Instead of reaching for my phone, I reach for my journal and spend a few minutes jotting ideas down or reflecting. Lastly, the replacement activity must be satisfying to me, I must identify the benefit and view it as a reward, for the new habit to stick.
So much of our lives are made up of habits! By definition, a habit is something we don’t have to think about when we do it. What habitual thoughts or behaviors of yours are no longer serving you?
Clients: Do you have a specific habit you’d like to change? If so, bring it up during our next call or email connect.