Introducing Basil & Courtney, our resident habit makers.

FullSizeRenderLet’s take a ride back in time to 2006, a time when I was a studious 16 year old…

…well in all subjects that weren’t science. I’d sit up the back, give the nod to a friend 4 seats away who’d start the clock, 30 seconds later, “HAYLEY…!” the clock would stop. New record! Great game! The game of how quickly can we tick our science teacher off, whom we will warmly refer to as Mr. H.

My classes would consist of counting how many time Mr. H. would say “ummm”. To be fair, if any of my fellow class mates would admit it, we all did.

If Mr. H. knew I was about to write a post for everyone to see about neuroscience he’d probably high five me…. across the face…. with a blackboard duster… attached to a hammer.

Lovely chap now that I think back from an adults point of view, recognising of course that teachers are people too. So Mr. H. this one is for you and may I offer my sincere apologies.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to two friends of mine that I think you should all get to know, The Basal Gangli and The Prefrontal Cortex. Given we are all friends here you can call our first friend Basil and the second Courtney.

Basil lives in the back of our brains, his job is to make our job as humans easy. When we repeatedly do something Basil says, “right you are sir, allow me to make that habitual”. Good Fellow Basil, if it wasn’t for him the simplest things such as brushing our teeth of a morning would be an onerous task.

Basil does soooooo much for us, for the purpose of this however there are three things about Basil that you should know.

Firstly, Basil LOVES comfort, I like to think of him as an old man stuck in his ways. That means that when we do something out of our comfort zone such as exercise, start our day at 6am and even think differently, Basil speaks up, “listen here Sonny, now that’s not safe, we don’t do that, it’s not easy. let me keep you safe. Sit back down on the lounge dear, here gorge yourself on this cake.” He’s the keeper of our habits and boy does he love keeping them!

The second thing you need to know about Basil is that he doesn’t actually know what’s good and bad for us. If you’ve done something over and over again he figures you’ve got your shit together enough to know right from wrong and he just makes it easy for you. I for one have Basil welllllllllll deceived.

Lastly, Basil works off triggers. It’s morning, let’s brush our teeth. We’ve finished dinner, let’s wash up. We are home from work, let’s sit on the lounge. I’m bored, let’s get on social media.

Now for our other new friend Courtney. Spritely Lass our Courtney. Courtney is responsible for our personalities and behaviours, she is our thoughts and she creates our reactions to our surroundings. Courtney is the chickie babe who DOES know right from wrong.

Courtney & Basil chat regularly. Courtney uses information from Basil to make our decisions, like wise when Courtney is doing her thing Basil takes note and creates what we know as a Neural pathway which, in short, creates our habits.

There are three components to habits the trigger, the reward, the routine. Let’s apply this to my months quest, quitting sugar. 3:30pm hits (the trigger), Basil takes me to the cookie jar (the reward) and do that everyday (routine). This is a habit, Basil likes this…

…But Basil needs to take a back seat while I shake things up.

Now understand, I haven’t got rid of the trigger, the reward or the routine, I’ve simply replaced something, that something being the reward – Courtney has helped me actively choose this everyday. I still get up at 3:30pm, I still walk to the kitchen but I make a cup of tea. Basil Knows something’s up, something’s different, it doesn’t feel quite right. He goes with the flow however because it’s sort of kind of what he’s used to so there isn’t much kick back. If I had of just dropped my 3:30pm routine all together Basil would have caused chaos.

It has become more and more comfortable making a cup of tea and ignoring the cookie jar because Courtney’s been talking to Basil, she’s been walking in a new Neural Pathway and everyday the pathway becomes more warn into my brain. Eventually the old cookie pathway will weaken and “over grow” and the new path will be the norm.

Now this takes between 30-60 days, thus why I’m making or breaking a different habit every 30 days.

So here are the lessons I want you to take from meeting these friends of mine;

  • Breaking or making habits is not easy!  We are not made to conquer the world, we are made to survive, to survive all these years it’s how we have had to be made. To hunt, gather and stay alive. Now-a-days however it’s all to easy to do this and we no longer have a need to survive but to thrive – We have evolved faster than our brains have and they haven’t caught onto the new trend of being freaking AWESOME!
  • You need to nurture Basil, after all he does just want what’s best. When you are giving something up that he loves, give him something new. When you’re feeling frustrated at having to do something, know it’s just Basil doing what he thinks is best for you, sit with him, reassure him and love your new decisions so that he becomes comfortable with them.
  • Give it time, there needs to be time to make and break habits. Don’t give up!
  • Know what you have to change and when you’ll have to change it. Plan replacements for your bad habits.
  • Habits work by filing in three components, play with those components change one up to wear a new path. Get home from work (trigger), put your joggers on feel accomplished for just doing that instead of sitting on the lounge (reward) do it everyday (routine)! Hopefully you’d go for a run as an off spin of the accomplished feeling of putting your shoes on. If not fine, that’s just a shitty day, I can guarantee you you’ll be 10 times more likely to go for a run if you come home and habitually put your joggers on though. There are so many ways you can play with this and REMEMBER, you won’t get the change up right the first time everytime… dare I say it, PERSIST!

Now let me give you something to put all this in perspective. Presuming you live to say 85, that means you have 31,025 days in your life, 60 days is 0.9339242% of your life. Isn’t it worth taking that minute percentage of your days to steer your life in a better direction and make the remaining 99.0660758% of your life FREAKING AMAZING?

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