Most people, when they talk about habits, mean what I call the surface habits of our everyday lives.
Like eating three pieces of fruit a day, or going to the gym three times a week, or writing in a daily journal.
‘Good habits’ like these are hard to create; to keep them going is a continuing struggle. Failure is common.
Why is it so hard to change our habits even when we we know that to do so would clearly transform our lives for the better? Why are we hostage to the habits that stop us achieving our most cherished ambitions?
These are surely fundamental questions to answer, if we wish to significantly improve our lives. Our habits seem to control just about everything we do.
Does science have any answers?
Current science has taught us much about the human brain, and a great deal too, about the causes of human behaviour.
For the first time in human history, we can 'see' what brains are doing. We can explore, right down to the molecular level, the complex electrical and chemical mechanisms that govern human thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We can begin to understand what really makes us tick.
And we are learning too, about the conflict that rages continually within us all, the battle between who we are and who we really want to be.
We have much more to learn of course. Great mysteries remain. Perhaps we will never unlock all the secrets of human consciousness and the human brain.
But we have crossed a threshold. We know this: when it comes to changing our habits, we have until now been using the wrong approach. Barking, you might say, up the wrong tree.
The reason for this has been our failure to fully appreciate the strength of the relationship between our personal habits and our personal nature.
Your personal nature simply means who you are right now. The complete sum of your personal characteristics. Your beliefs, values, attitudes, feelings, behaviours, habits and so on.
Our personal natures are unique and individual. She likes Beethoven, you like the Beatles. He enjoys football, you prefer the movies. She is gushing and outspoken, you are the quiet type. We are all different.
Your personal nature is determined by a combination of two things: your genes and your life experiences. Nature and nurture. These two ‘forces’ mix together in complex ways that are not yet fully understood.
It is sufficient for now, to know that your personal nature is partly due to your original (genetic) nature, and partly due to the things you have learned through living in your environment. Both matter.
Your habits are part of the definition of who you are.
Your habits are not just something you do. They are something you are. Your habits are an intrinsic part of what it means to be you. Take away your habits and you remove a chunk of the unique being that is you.
Habits are hard to change because they are an intrinsic part of who you are.
For example if you’re not a natural ‘list person’ it’s going to be very hard for you to adopt a ‘do list’ approach to life. The habit will not align well with your personal nature. You will likely become frustrated with it, and no matter how hard you try, you will be inclined to lapse back into your old, 'listless' ways. That, after all, is who you 'really' are.
It’s hard to ‘force yourself’ to change your habits. When you try to do so, you create an inner conflict. Part of you wants to adopt the new habit, while part of you resists, and tries to 'snap you back' to being your usual, comfortable self. Usually, after a while, the part that resists wins. That’s because it’s the part of you that represents your current personal nature, that is, who you are right now.
The tension set up by this conflict is a powerful obstacle to change. That's why self discipline, trying to forcing yourself to change your ways, rarely works over the long term, for most people.
The surface of your physical body is defined by your skin. That's the visible part of you that we all see.
Although your skin sits out there, on the outer surface of your body, it's not, of course, disconnected from the rest of your body. Like every other physical organ, your skin relies completely for its survival and function on the body systems that deliver it nourishment. It is dependent on the whole.
In the same way, what I have called your surface habits, your visible outer 'skin' of habitual behaviours responsible for virtually eveything you do, are also nourished from within.
On one level, your habits are nourished by your personal belief system; they reflect your beliefs, values and attitudes, both conscious and unconscious.
On another level, your habits are a sort of repertoire of 'automatic motor responses' for dealing with common situations. They are 'learned responses' based on experience, that enable you to deal efficiently with the everyday actions required for normal living. You don't have to 'stop and think' every time you're about to do something.
Habits are essential of course - without them you'd soon go crazy.
Your habits then, are nourished and sustained on the one hand by your beliefs, and on the other hand by your body's learned responses to situations, based on all your life experiences.
It's more complex than that of course. For example certain instinctive impulses are also in the mix of your behaviour determinants, such as a 'natural' fear of heights, which are biologically determined to promote your survival, and may be stronger in some people than in others, based on individual genetic differences.
But you get the overall picture. Your habits are very much part of who you are. We see them 'on the outside' as your visible behaviour, but properly understood, they are an expression of your inner self, your personal nature.
Changing your habits then, really amounts to changing yourself.
As you might expect, this is not necessarily a straightforward matter. Personal changes may not be relatively easy to achieve when they align well with your current personal nature. The challenge comes when you try making changes that run counter to your current personal nature.
Fortunately, studies have identified approaches to personal change that are far more likely to succeed that traditional methods. This is essentially the case because they enable you to create positive lasting change in your personal nature. The new habits 'stick' because they are now aligned with 'who you are.' The new, improved you. There is no inner conflict when you do things this way. That of course is the key to achieving lasting personal change.
Even better news: Inner change is possible at any age. It turns out, we human beings are designed to grow toward the farther reaches of our human nature, to make use of ever more of the astonishing capacities of our human mind and consciousness.
Like other animals, we are designed to grow not physically (in our case, until about age 20 in most significant respects).
As humans however, we also have an extraordinary capacity to grow, mentally and 'spiritually,' throughout our entire lives.
Change is not only possible; we are 'wired' for it.
The old approach of banging you head against the wall, trying to force long-term personal change on yourself from the outside as it were, simply doesn't work for most people most of the time.
It ignores the current reality of your inner personal nature; and we know that if the change you are seeking is not a good 'fit' for your current personal nature, it's unlikely to survive. (There are of course many reasons for this, which I go into elsewhere).
Almost always, your body will reject 'implants of foreign habits,' where they are incompatible with your personal nature. We know as much from our personal experience. When was the last time you stuck with a new diet, for good?
Studies in many different fields lead us to an inevitable conclusion: To create lasting personal change you must start from within. Change, in other words, has to start on the iside and work its way out.
Your focus must be on achieving positive change in your personal nature, your 'inner' self. 'Outer' changes, that is the improvements you want in your surface habits, will occur somewhat naturally as a result, with very little effort on your part.
As you improve your way of 'being,' positive changes in your way of 'doing' will follow more or less automatically.
Science has reached the same conclusion that ancient and traditional wisdom has long taught. The best of modern thinkers and inspirational writers too, have been telling us that true change must come from within.
The difference now is that this conclusion has been backed up by science
Furthermore, the new science also suggests precisely what practical steps we might take to improve our 'selves,' and our lives.
What we now know is that habits come in two flavours. Actually, it's more helpful to think of them as coming in two 'layers.'
We're mostly used to working on our habits in the outer layer, the surface habits that, as we've seen, involves the things we do in our normal, daily lives.
An example. Let's say you have a habit of leaving your room in an untidy mess each morning as you rush out to work. There is never time to clean up. So you come home at night, exhausted and ready to relax, but knowing that first you have to make your bed, put things away and 'tidy up.' It annoys and frustrates you, but it's been this way for years. It's just the way things are. There's never time in the morning. Can't be helped!
You've tried before to change this habit, but you always lapse back. There's just no time. You just get yourself stressed out. What's the point?
Now let's look at another approach. It's what I call the Metahabits approach. Metahabits are your inner habits. They are habits of being as opposed to habits of doing.
Your Metahabits have great power because they reflect, at a very deep level, who you are (your unique personal nature), not just the things you think and do 'on the outside,' (your surface habits).
One of the Metahabits, as you'll see, is to act responsibly. It's a commitment to taking personal responsibility for the way you live your life.
Acting responsibly is the opposite to blaming others, "This apartment is so cramped. I wish my mother hadn't suggest I move in here!", complaining "There's just never enough cupboard space in this apartment to put all my things away." and making excuses "There's not enough time in the mornings to do everything!".
Most people have a habit of blaming, complaining and making excuses, rather than acting responsibly to gain greater control over their lives.
Acting with responsibility, in our example, might mean making a personal commitment such as: 'I value the ideal of being a neat and tidy person. From now on I'll take personal responsibility for striving toward that ideal in all aspects of my life.
When you do this, notice you have consciously chosen to review your inner, core values.
You have brought into play another powerful metahabit, which is to live consciously.
When you develop the habit of consciously choosing to develop personal qualities you value, (being responsible and tidy in this case), you will begin naturally to develop strategies to become that person (strategies like setting your alarm for 10 minutes earlier, giving some of your excess clothes to charity, installing a new cupboard in the laundry or moving to a different apartment).
In this way you activate powerful inner forces that will propel you along a path toward lasting personal change.
This of course has been a rather trivial example of personal change. In practice, thinking at the level of Metahabits can bring about profound positive and lasting change in all aspects of your life.
The power of working on 'who you are' rather than on your external surface habits is immense, as we shall see in many ways on this website.
This site is your primary source of information about The 6 Healthy Habits, metahabits aimed at creating lasting positive personal change.
These powerful metahabits are based on current science. Studies in recent years have increased enormously our knowledge about fostering our human capacity for inner change.
Metahabits are high-level habits that can assist you to master the habit of changing habits. Metahabits are fundamental tools for creating lasting personal change.
Throughout this site you'll find everything you need to know about developing The 6 Healthy Habits, including links to many resources that may help you find your unique, personal path to a life of real health, real growth and real success.Top
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