"Man is a creature of habit."
This simple statement is deceptively profound. Most people's lives are comprised of a collection of habits that dictate many of their physical, emotional and mental actions and reactions. Depending on the level of conscious awareness you invest in a habit's creation, habits can either enslave you, turning you into a mindless automaton, or free you to pursue creative, joyful activities that enhance and give meaning to your life. Most people have a mixture of good and bad habits.
Habit is defined as an acquired behavior pattern followed until it has become almost involuntary. Habits can be good or bad, productive or non-productive. Good habits lead to skills, such as learning to ride a bicycle. They also save you time and energy by automating the performance of desirable actions. Brushing your teeth or driving a car are examples. These acquired behavior patterns free your mind from having to concentrate, as would be required of unfamiliar actions.
Bad habits predispose you to undesirable outcomes. Excessive drinking, smoking, drug use and overeating are examples of bad habits that can harm your body and impair your judgment, aside from wasting your time.
Common sense tells us that you want to replace bad habits with good ones, which is the basis of all self-development and evolution. But as almost everyone who has ever tried to quit smoking will tell you, this is not always as easy as it would seem.
Smokers are addicted to nicotine. But according to modern brain science, all habits induce emotional states that produce chemicals in your brain. Consequently, you become addicted to the chemicals secreted by your brain no matter what kind of habit you create!
With every thought or action you undertake, you create electrical pathways in your brain. As Joseph Dispenza says in the movie What the Bleep do We Know?, "neurons which fire together, wire together." Repetition etches these patterns more deeply into your brain.
To replace a bad habit with a good one, you need to break the association with your emotions and the chemicals you've grown accustomed to, and rewire your brain. This requires concentration and will.
If you are unaware or unwilling to acknowledge your non-productive habit, you will have a hard time replacing it. If you are not convinced a particular habit is bad for you, you will have no incentive to change it. But, if you are aware of your unwanted habit and are willing to devote your attention to it, then it can be changed. Deeply focused concentration, such as during a visualization exercise, increases the potency of your thoughts and more deeply affects your brain's rewiring.
Remember, it took regular action to install your unwanted habit – possibly over the course of several lifetimes – so it will take regular action to undo it. This is where your will comes in.
You strengthen your will, as well as your habit, with repetition. Every time you consciously reject the urge to give in to your bad habit, you strengthen your will. Every time you consciously undertake an action to install a new, positive habit, it becomes easier. This is how you rewire your brain and overcome your addictions.
When these habits are of a positive nature, this self-reinforcing cycle produces positive results, but the contrary is also true. This demonstrates a principle that Jesus taught, "For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."
In other words, consciously acting to install positive habits strengthens your will and further attracts more like experiences. Giving in to bad habits, weakens your will, not only making it harder to install good habits, but doing so may cause you to lose what good habits you already had. Can there be any better reason to develop your will and consciously establish positive habits?
The development of good habits is meant to improve your life, free you from the grip of negative habits and attract even more positive experiences to you. At the same time, always remember to be guided by wisdom and not convention. You should strive to perform good actions based on your own inner wisdom and conscious choice, not based on convention – not even good habits. This is the ultimate freedom.
By Edwin Harkness Spina She is an award-winning author and speaker.