Habit formation needs a trigger and a motivator

By Madhurie Singh, January 01, 2013

A very Happy New Year to All the Readers and Parents!

I am sure like every year you have plans to make a few changes in your life this new year too.

Nothing new right!

We plan every year and within a few months do not even remember when we stopped even bothering about it.

Why! Oh Why can we not make it into a success?

It's a very simple yet an interesting part of your brain which is making you either do it or not do what you had planned.

This part of the brain is called the "Basal Ganglia" or the more primitive part of the brain we all humans were born with since the evolution of the homo sapiens. Why just humans, in fact all creatures with brains have this part basal ganglia in their body. (Many creatures have brains in legs and abdomen like spiders and squids respectively!)

With repetition of the same trigger, same course of actions and same rewarding result, out basal ganglia, is hard coded with this behavior. We will now perform the course of actions whenever we are triggered. So even if you lose your memory, you will still do these basic acts like sitting, standing, running talking as it's hard coded into your basal ganglia.

For Eg: I always used to drop my sons to their two different schools by taking the same route. Later both started going to the same school. But every time I dropped them, I would find myself going towards the second school! This is called the hard coded brain memory found in the basal ganglia that makes you do an action without even thinking.

But it's possible to learn and change the habits by practicing hard.

So after a few days, my brain learnt to stop taking this automatic route.

Coming back to the New Year plans that haunt all of us.

Last year I linked my resolution to something new and different and now it's become my habit!

The first thing that I did different was not to start on the 1st of Jan! 🙂  I started it in February on purpose.

The second thing I did different and the more important point to note is that I linked my resolution to the most motivating factor in my life, my children.

My addiction to the internet was my worry. I was just not able to control it, but it was controlling me! All my reasoning to not over use internet was in vain. Till I read an article on the dangers of the WiFi on the health of the children in the house. After a lot of reading and analysis, I knew that if I have to take care of the health of my kids, my WiFi needs to be switched off the moment they came back from the school. I went from an addiction mode to the controlling the internet in just one day!

I had found my motivating factor. I knew the trigger was the sound of the email pop or reminders which I turned off. Also from the time my kids were back from the school till the next morning, the WiFi was switched off except when I checked the mail at night for an hour.

And since I am a fast learner, I have maintained this learning to date. I think it's hard coded by now into my basal ganglia. ( I love to use new words too often the day I learn them to  make it part of my vocabulary without thinking too hard for the good words. ;))

So for those who find it difficult to exercise (or any other action), you may link it to something that is most important to you. It can be the looks, the self esteem, the need to look attractive, the spouse or partner, the kids or your parents' dream.

So how to link your resolution to the motivation of your life?

Let's take my example again.

I want to live a healthy life to be able to support my kids till they are independent. I want to see them transform into happy and responsible human beings. But if I am not healthy, how will I help them? I may on the contrary become a burden on them! So the motivation is set. Now the actions are to be defined. I have to work out or play or exercise every day. Keep track of my health by regular check ups.  Now, I have to define my trigger. Of course one look at my kids' cute and happy faces every morning when they are waving their hands vigorously while leaving for the school is the most important trigger to act upon.

So my Trigger, the course of action and the motivation are all set.

You can replace anything into a trigger, maybe a small note on the bathroom mirror or a daily morning reminder or an email or your shoes and tracks next to the bed or even a workout partner!

Then find out the motivating factor.

The last step, design a step by step plan to workout or exercise.

There you are! Do it for 30 days minimum as that's the minimum you need for the basal ganglia to hard code it.

But remember, it's always easy to forget when your motivation factor changes or is not good enough! So make sure you first know yourself too well to define your motivation factor!

Will update you on my this year's resolution next year, when I have successfully done it.








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