The things we do each day become habits.
A great practical activity to demonstrate this is folding A4 paper until you can go no further. At its final stage, this paper is incredibly thick and can’t be ripped up – it’s a fully formed and super-strong habit. It’s something that you’ll probably now do automatically. Read more about this ‘Habit Origami’ technique here.
When I teach ‘Wellbeing Warriors’ workshops in schools, one of the key topics is Growth Mindset. In short, this is the idea – backed up by Neuroscience – that we can change and grow the landscape of our minds by learning, doing, practising.
Understanding your own routines and habits, whilst maintaining an understanding of Growth Mindset is a fundamental step in human growth. Knowing that intelligence, qualities and skills aren’t fixed in place, even though they may seem so, is an empowering concept. Adding the word ‘yet’ to whatever it is that you ‘can’t do’ has the power to change everything.
The problem is that even if you’re sold on Growth Mindset, it’s easy to forget about this when you’re faced with chocolate cake, traffic jams or one of life’s fabulous, but rather terrifying, challenges.
Something that’s really helped me is to visualise what’s going in inside my brain when I’m doing, thinking or acting in a certain way.
Here’s a brilliant image from Mary Cay Ricci’s ‘Mindsets in the Classroom’.
I use this in the classroom, but I also have a copy on my kitchen cupboard so that I see this every day.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling blue or bored or anxious, and I’m reaching for the chocolate biscuits, I see this and I ask myself, “Do I really want to strengthen this habit?” I see it in my brain, like a thread of cotton, with more strands of cotton plaited over it. I watch it becoming stronger. I remember, that if I don’t choose to ‘eat my feelings’, I’m weakening this link. I’m taking threads away; breaking them down.
The example here relates to emotional eating, but you can apply this kind of visualisation to any situation. When you’re about to avoid something amazing because of fear; when you’re about to react emotionally and say something you might regret; as you reach for the cigarette after a hard day; try to see the habits forming in your head. And see if that doesn’t lead you to a better choice.