What is a habit? It can be compared to a cable in which we weave one thread each day until the cable becomes so strong that you cannot break it. Similarly, the repeated little actions we take daily, create habits within ourselves either for the good or bad. Good habits can take us right to the top and bad habits can drop us down to the lowest nadir. On the 18th day of the Happiness Challenge, let us discuss how we can upgrade the quality of our life through the power of habits.
This brain of ours is a very interesting mechanism. Whenever we engage in physical or mental activity, the brain fires up neurons in the sensory-motor region, the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex, etc., to accomplish the task. But the brain has the ability to program itself. And when it discovers that a certain action is being repeated, it creates a program for it and stores it in the basal ganglia region of the brain. That action then starts happening automatically.
A habit has three parts to it. The first is the cue, the second is the programmed action, and the third is the reward. Let us say that for one month—daily after coming home from work, we sat on our sofa to watch the television and at that time we also drank coffee alongside. Now, the brain created a habit out of it. So, the moment we go to sit on our sofa, that is the trigger—the cue. The brain then creates the desire, “I wish to have coffee.” And when we indulge in it, there is a little bit of a reward. That reward of pleasure then reinforces the habit loop—cue, action, and pleasure.
This brain is so remarkable and intelligent that it can create its own rewards. When it reinforces the habit loop, it sends a few feel-good chemicals to that portion of the brain—the dopamine, the endorphin, the serotonin that creates the pleasurable sensation to strengthen the habit loop. Our brain does not care how it has been programmed. If we have set up the wrong habits within ourselves, then those wrong thoughts and wrong actions will happen to us easily.
Watch this interesting video by Swami Mukundananda –
The moment we see the trigger, the desire will be created, or the activity will be engaged in. Now, when we repeat that activity again and again, the habit loop gets strengthened within ourselves until finally it starts happening automatically. It is said that bad habits are easy to create but hard to live with and good habits are an austerity to establish but easy to live with. So, the advantage of creating good habits within ourselves is that they enable us to upgrade the quality of our life without much of a drain on our willpower. But to be able to do that we need to first invest our willpower and engage in the austerity required for creating a good habit.
Some people live from pay-check to pay-check, spending all that they earn. Others who are wiser, save a bit of their income and invest it for a comfortable future. In the same way, we can either go through life exerting our willpower to refrain from the temptations and engage in the disciplines required for success. Or, we spend a little time and effort every day engaging in the beneficial works (though they may be difficult), by exerting our willpower and thereby, investing this self-control to create within ourselves a beneficial habit.
So, let us think about it—how we could benefit by dismantling unproductive habits and establishing uplifting ones within ourselves. We can make a list of the habits we wish to create within ourselves and exert our willpower to do so.