creating new habits

Creating new habits can be challenging. The reason for this? Our brains love to develop cognitive shortcuts to help us to make decisions more quickly. We can think about these cognitive shortcuts as a form of simplified decision making. The shortcuts that our brains create are called heuristics. Heuristics are helpful because they require less mental effort. As a result, they help us to quickly form judgements, make decisions, or to solve problems. Having heuristics frees up processing power to focus on other tasks which require more sustained attention. 

Consider this example, where we may have less cognitive shortcuts available to assist our decision making. We travel to a foreign place with our partner for holidays. Micro-decisions which are typically automated when at home (what time we get up, what we do for breakfast, where we get our morning coffee from, where to eat for lunch etc.) now have to be made consciously. This may be tiring for our brains and takes more mental effort. Similarly, it can be tiring for our brains when we start something new (like a new role, attempt to set a new routine or creating new habits).

4 strategies which may be helpful when creating new habits

When attempting to create a new habit, the following strategies may be helpful:

  • Remember that it may take some time for new mental shortcuts to develop. While these new shortcuts are developing, it is normal to feel tired as a result of all the extra processing our brains are engaging in.
  • Quickly establishing a new routine may be helpful to reduce the mental load on our brains. Having a routine essentially automates part of our decision making. This frees up mental capacity to focus on other things. 
  • Use existing habits to create new ones. For example, you might like to try stacking a brief breathing or mindfulness exercise with the habit of filling up your water bottle throughout the day. Leveraging existing habits may make it easier and use less mental effort when forming a new habit.
  • Practice mindfulness and acceptance. Notice the emotions and thoughts which arise as you attempt to create a new habit. Practice accepting that creating a new habit is challenging, tiring, and (at times) frustrating.

If you would like support to create a new habit or change an old one, contact Uplift Psychology to find out how we can help.

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