Lesson #2: The Physiology of Habits


“Physiology” is the science that deals with the functions of an organism or its parts. In other words, physically how we’re put together.

You may be surprised to learn that habits actually have a physical representation in our bodies. Just like working out repeatedly strengthens muscles or makes activities easier, repetition in thought and actions work the same way. The result is a habit.

Your Brain Actually Changes

When you use your muscles over and over again, more muscle fibers form and the muscle becomes stronger. Also, the part of the brain that controls that motion changes and becomes “stronger”. That’s why you can do some things without even thinking about them.

The cool thing is that your brain actually makes a physiological change. Each time you do something, the neural pathways that led to that action are strengthened – your brain makes a physical change! That part of your brain becomes “stronger”. Eventually it becomes what we call habit.

I love what Og Mandino says about habits:

“Any act with practice becomes easy, and when an act becomes easy through constant repetition, it becomes a pleasure to perform, and if it is a pleasure to perform, it is man’s nature to perform it often. Thus a new habit is born.”

So, what about bad habits that you want to get rid of? You need to “overwrite” them with a new habit.

If there is a trigger point that usually causes you to do a bad thing, for example “done with dinner ==> eat a cookie”, you need to step in at that trigger point and create a new habit, “done with dinner ==> brush my teeth”.

At first, it is not easy, and doesn’t feel right. But as you do it more and more, the neural pathway gets developed, it becomes easier to do, the neural pathway gets stronger, then you like doing it, then it becomes automatic – a habit.

You Can’t Fake a Habit

Since repetitive action actually changes your brain, just like you can’t develop strong muscles without using them repeatedly, or develop a skill without practice, you can’t make a habit without repetition.

That action can be anything: physical strength, waking up at the same time every day, driving, playing a musical instrument, the way you talk, smile or laugh, the things you think about and the way you think.

Developing habits in your thinking is the most powerful, because, whether you realize it or not, thoughts dictate your mood, your emotions, and your actions. (Well, really thoughts dictate just about everything.)

So, if you’re trying to change something in your life, be sure to pay attention to the thoughts that drive it. Search your brain for any limiting beliefs and work to release and replace them. Make a plan to “exercise” the thoughts that you need to think to be successful.

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