Creatures of habit

What will 2014 hold for you?…. your team…….your business?  The SAME as 2013…as 2012? For many, it will be. How come?

Organisational change is a recurring theme in my current work. A CHANGE challenge is that neuroscientists tell us 70-90% of today’s thoughts are the same as yesterday’s. Why is this?

Two opposing forces in the brain are:

  • Efficiency through repetition:- as you repeat thoughts, so the nerve pathways become myelinated (insulated) for quicker performance – less effort, more speed. Habits serve us well and if your brain didn’t habituate, you would need to re-learn how to tie your shoe laces each morning as a youngster.  Organisation success is due in part to systematising of proven processes – ‘recipes’ – for consistent quality.
  • Change – doing new things or old things differently:- as you adapt to a dynamic environment, so your survival is assured. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity (new brain growth and brain change) preserve life.  Organisation success requires ITERATIVE change. Continuous change is healthy and essential, but constant, tumultuous change can even be life-threatening.

The past becomes the future

Sometimes habituation and renewal wires cross through various experiences. People habituate what threatens their survival (or at the very least, their health, relationships, income or performance of their business) when they choose short-term at the expense of long term gain.  Charles Duhigg connected human habits and business/organisation success in his book ‘The Power of Habit’. The ‘hit’ (reward zone in the brain that emits an intoxicating neurotransmitter) entices the repetition of that behaviour. Before long, it has habituated and the person as a conscious being is no longer in the driver’s seat.  Without realising it, daily thoughts and actions recreate the past, over and over.

Addictive thoughts become addictive behaviours

Two survival drives of the human brain can unwittingly enslave you to subconscious decisions that don’t serve you well, to avoid discomfort (pain) or in pursuit of that ‘hit’ (pleasure). Your superior, intelligent, advanced mind is thus programmed by a process that mimics chemical addiction. Prof Cliff Abrams at Otago University has lectured eloquently on this topic. The ‘hit’ mechanism can vary widely – from chocolate or coffee through to vodka or cocaine.

This can actually be a way to anaesthetise against painful life circumstances. “Studies showed that a high sugar intake has the same effect on the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine in the brain as cocaine” (from an article entitled Bitter You – Page 18, You, 23 January 2014.)  For others, it is a familiar pattern of behaviour that triggers a cascade of powerful habituating hormones.

Avoid the trap

The reward and pain avoidance systems in the brain are instinctive and fundamental to life preservation both in the short and long term. They are extremely powerful and it is pointless denying them. But like daily adaptive responses to gravity, you can adapt your behaviours to work with  these powerful, life forces.

Choose your thoughts and choose your future

Given that imagined reality  is as influential as reality itself on the auto-suggestive brain, and given that humans are narrative creatures, their interpretive stories about daily experiences determine how their brain responds to life experience. Those who make success look easy simply make this a deliberate process – they consciously interpret and narrate in a way that drives them towards want they want and away from what they don’t. Simply changing the phrase “I’ve got to…..” to “I get to…………” can change your emotional state and therefore application to a task at hand. Repeat this a thousand times in different ways and your actions will create circumstances that align with your best intentions.


1. Attach (anchor) pleasure to a mental goal that your intelligent mind chooses deliberately and attach pain to an action you know will not be in your best interests. In no time, your efficient brain will habituate your choices.
2. Be honest (i.e. brutally frank) about the cost of current habits. This is not easy as self-delusion is alive and well in the average psyche. But self-delusion is simply another habit learned as a child. It can be unlearned when you realise that, as an adult, you don’t need such self-protection.
3. Deliberately habituate (establish and repeat) actions that are aligned with your chosen goals. Ensure you interpret these as pleasurable (or create rewards along the way) to stay plugged in, in the direction you CHOOSE.  Alternatively, make it more painful to do the things you know won’t serve you well. It may sound glib, but this is the way many successful people self-programme for success. They deliberately attach their chosen story to life events.
4. Calibrate – count your start point and count what you’re doing; monitor your progress and adjust as needed.
5. Publicise your commitment – tell others what you are committed to change.
6. Make change a habit. Initiate change the moment you notice you’re getting stuck in a negative pattern. (For anyone struggling with debilitating addiction, find an NLP specialist who can boost your change efforts.) When you choose constant CHANGE (life-preservation), you become more responsive to externally-driven (unexpected) change.

Make 2014 a year of continuous change and growth. Continuous change and renewal develops a change-adeptness that will serve you well in an accelerating world.


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
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