Life is about decisions. Every day we make millions of decisions: when to get up, what to wear, how to respond to our spouse, whether to answer the phone, look at email, and so on. Many of the decisions we make, we make on autopilot. Autopilot is a good thing because then we don’t have to make so many decisions. Right? Wrong. The thing about autopilot is that it won’t let you change. The only way you can create the life you want if but you have to change and that’s the rub.
Your brain has two modes: autopilot (habits) and decision making. Two different parts of your brain control these two modes.
Habit-making behaviors, emotions, memories, and pattern recognition are linked to the basal ganglia.
The prefrontal cortex controls decision making. This part of the brain works to learn new things.
The other thing your brain does is to help you survive. It regulates your body functioning and it is geared to protect you no matter what. Your brain (the basal ganglia) recognizes a danger before you consciously register the danger. That’s what it’s supposed to do so you can survive.
There are real dangers like getting lost in the woods, or in crossing a busy street, or in standing too close to a fire. But we also have perceived dangers. We feel hesitant or nervous or afraid to meet a new person or to make a phone call or do something different. Our voice gets shaky, our chest feels like it’s caving inward, and our knees want to give out. These feelings are normal. They also signal our brain that there’s danger.
The moment you think I want to try that—you get a little nervous and your brain jumps in there and says—let’s think about that.
So you stop. You hesitate. And don’t do the thing you were going to do.
The Habit Loop
The habit loop is the cue (the thing that triggers the habit), the routine (the thing you do), and the reward.
When your brain stops you repeatedly, it becomes a habit. You think about doing that thing and your brain goes to work, you hesitate, and you don’t do it.
Your cue is something that reminds you of what you want to try. The routine is to hesitate, think about it, and then not do it. And your brain rewards you with feeling safe and an excuse or two.
You call yourself lazy. You say you have to be motivated. Or you say, I’m too nervous/fearful/incompetent to do the thing.
Hogwash. You’ve abdicated and allowed the basal ganglia of your brain, to make the decision for you. You can have the life you want but you’ll have to stop the habit loop.
Break the Habit
You’ll never feel motivated. None of us do. You’ll always choose the safe thing because your brain must save you from what’s uncomfortable, uncertain, difficult, or scary.
But you know what you need to do to change your life. You want to lose weight or get more physically fit, or meet someone new, change jobs. Whatever it is, you know what you want to do. You know it intellectually and you know it in your gut. But you can’t make yourself do it because your brain defeats you.
If you change your decisions, you’ll change your life.
Mel Robbins came up with a method she calls the 5 Second Rule (and no it has nothing to do with food on the floor). This video is 11 minutes long.
Everyone has an innate sense of who you are, what you are here for. You know what you want to do. Whatever it is, don’t think about it. Count 5-4-3-2-1 and do it.
She used this to break the habit of hitting the snooze button, to stop drinking, and to change her life. You can too.
The Life You Want
You know what to do to change your life for the better. What’s one thing you can do right now that will be the first baby step to your new life? Count to yourself, 5-4-3-2-1 and do it. You can create the life you want. Count down 5-4-3-2-1. Launch yourself to your new life. Do it.