Nerves that fire together wire together.
That’s the simplified science behind how habits are formed, says Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind. Each time we act, our brains’ structure is reorganized. But by repeating the same actions, we condition our brains to fire in predictable patterns. By age 35, 95 percent of our actions are governed by autopilot, Dispenza says. Humans think roughly 65,000 thoughts per day, and 90 percent of them are the same as the day before. It’s scary stuff.
Fortunately, there’s a way to break the cycle and replace bad habits with good ones. Making a change is not easy, necessarily, but it’s more manageable using these five steps:
1. GET INTENTION
Simply put, figure out what it is you want to do. Is your goal to lose weight? Quit smoking? Define your desire and write it down. The more specific, the better. “The clearer your purpose or intention, the more likely you are to achieve it,” Dispenza says.
2. IDENTIFY PURPOSE
For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what you’re really after is health. Identifying the larger goal is important because the pursuit of it will be ongoing. “Intention is like a direction,” Dispenza says. “It’s like going west — there’s always more west to go.” When you pursue one good habit, others will fall into place.
3. MAKE TIME TO VISUALIZE
Sit down each day, preferably in the morning, and plan what you’re going to do differently to change your ways. This “priming the brain” clears a path for new neurological connections, and brings your intentions to the forefront of your mind, so you can act more consciously. “You’re installing the software and hardware program so your brain literally has circuits to use when you get up and start your day.”
4. GAME TIME!
Now comes the hard part — time to match your behaviors to your intentions. It will feel uncomfortable for the first two weeks, but hang in there. The payoff will be worth it. When the issue you struggle with comes up, recognize it and make a conscious effort to resist temptation. In time the bad habit you seek to quash will be permanently replaced by good.
5. KEEP A JOURNAL, FIND SUPPORT
The details of your transformation may seem insignificant, so it’s important to track your progress. Did you not eat past 6 p.m.? Did you walk a mile after dinner? Log it. “When you begin to get feedback, you know you’re advancing,” Dispenza says. It may seem tedious to note what you ate for lunch, but over time you’ll have a log of your progress and will be able to see how far your habits have come. Similarly, surround yourself with people who support you and respect your goals. Find a little help from your friends.
Two final tips: “The more you plan your behavior ahead of time, the more likely you are to succeed,” he says. Similarly, “the more stressed you are, the less likely you are to succeed.”
Dr. Joe Dispenza will speak in Las Vegas on Jan. 12 at Hay House’s “You Can Heal Yourself” event.