Making New Year Resolutions That Stick.

"The great thing is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy."
- William James, "Habit" 1890

I have made numerous New Year resolutions that did not stick, as many people do every year.  We need to understand that changing “Keystone Habits” are the key to making them last. 

How Habits Are Formed

If you want to know what makes up 95% of your life, you need to learn this equation Cue + Routine + Reward = Habit.  We are mainly a product of our habits.  This begins with our mental habits.  For our mental habits form our thoughts.  These thoughts become our words.  These words become our actions.  Our actions become our lives.  I’ll use an example from my former life as a smoker.  A firmly entrenched habit I had was to have a cigarette whenever I would get in my car and drive anywhere.  The cue was starting the car, the routine was smoking the cigarette, and the reward was the decrease in the craving for a cigarette.

Habits are formed in our brains through a combination of neurotransmitters such as Dopamine and Serotonin.  Once cue, routine, and reward patterns are formed it is then stored in a small ancient part of the central brain called the Basal Ganglia.

Why does the brain default to habits?  It assists it in accomplishing its main agenda, which is to keep itself alive.  Habits utilize less brain energy.  If you were to look at a graph of the brain patterns of rats in a maze, you would notice that once the pattern is learned and it becomes a habit, there is significantly less brain activity.  Less energy to carry out learned tasks (habits) more energy to fight or to run from any potential danger, such as a tiger.  Which our ancient ancestors regularly encountered 100,000’s of years ago.  It is part of evolution. 

This is why firmly entrenched habits can be so challenging to change.  When you understand “Keystone Habits” the better the chance of making a permanent change.

What are keystone habits and why are they important?

Keystone habits are foundational patterns from which other habits arise.  They are the habits that when adjusted will have a trickle-down effect on other habits.  I joined Toastmasters about a year ago.  I joined mainly to learn how to speak in front of other people.  I have reaped far greater benefits.  When I practiced and established the habit of speaking in front of others, it has had a tremendous effect on my overall self-confidence.  By facing head on the pattern of fear know as public speaking it has helped me to overcome other concerns.  I became a more efficient and effective communicator.  This helps in other areas such as making sales calls.  I feel greater confidence in my communication skills, thus less reluctance to make those difficult calls.

The question you may have is how do you identify keystone habits?  That will be covered in the next blog.  Stay tuned!

Until Next Week,

Rich Decker – Mindful Accord