Here’s game we call “Evil number seven”. In a recent study, researched divided participants into two groups and had each group sit down. At first assignment seemed relatively simple; Go clockwise around the circle counting from number 1 to 30. The first person would say “one”, then the person to his left would say “two” and so on all the way up to “30”. Sounds simple right?
There were, however, certain expectations. And this is what made the game interesting. Anytime you reached a number that contain the number7 or was divisible by 7, clap your hands and sit back down again. The person next to you would pick up where you left off, counting “eight” in the first instances, “fifteen” on the next and so on.
This little game not only demonstrates how difficult and disruptive it can be to break out of a well-established, deeply ingrained habits, but it also teaches us a lot about how two important parts of the brain operate: the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia. We already know about the prefrontal cortex from my previous blog posts. But t’s the golf-size basal ganglia region that does the work when we’re counting. But what happens when we take something we know “by heart” like counting to 30 and ad extra requirements? Suddenly, a task we normally take for granted requires some additional conscious effort. Our brains maybe smart but they’re also kind of lazy. From the brains perspective, each habit in our basal ganglia functions like a dishwasher or an electric canopene: It’s a labour-saving device.
So how do we change a habit?
- Goal setting: This supplies the destination. Where do you want to go? MAKE IT PRECISE
- Getting started: What tools do you need to start? A goal without emotion is a guaranteed failed goal. In order to be motivated to start, your goal must have an emotional connection to your why and your ultimate fulfilment.
- Staying on track: The key to staying on track is to modify the goals after incrementally after each minor achievement. You don’t want to be stuck each week working towards that massive reward or outcome.
Habits provide the dramatic demonstration of power and utility of our unconscious mind. Although the old saying “we only use 10% of our brain” isn’t true, there are ways we can learn to use our brains more effectively.