Using Your Basal Ganglia to Change Habits

If you have ever wondered why it’s so hard to upgrade the habits, practices and rituals that make up your time management system, then you need look no further.  Apparently, it has a lot to do with brain physiology:

Similarly, if you want to create permanent new patterns of behavior in people (including yourself), you must embed them in the basal ganglia. Taking on new patterns (also known as learning) often feels unfamiliar and painful, because it means consciously overriding deeply comfortable neuronal circuitry. It also draws on parts of the brain that require more effort and energy, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with deliberate executive functions such as planning and thinking ahead.

This intriguing article talks about the need to establish new habits through repetition, and the neural pathways that are created when enough attention is placed on taking actions like re-labelling certain responses.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the hardest part of teaching new time management techniques is not getting the mostly common-sense concepts across to the class.  Instead, it’s helping them to implement the new habits, practices and rituals required to make an effective upgrade.

There is no simple and easy answer to this challenge – I get the feeling from reading this article and others that the research is in its early days, especially when it comes to making changes that don’t involve life-threats (like smoking or taking drugs.)  Nevertheless, the article makes some important points, even though it doesn’t describe the need to create an environment that makes habit change easy.

That’s the Way We (Used to) Do Business Around Here from the Strategy and Business Journal.