Why is it so difficult to change a habit?
I’m sure you have asked yourself this question more than once!
Our brain cells, the neurons, are tiny cells with long “arms” (called dendrites) that extend and connect with other “arms”. Every time we think something new, or we learn something, our neurons create new connections. Through these connections tiny electric stimuli travel from neuron A to neuron B. It is said that when “two neurons fire together, they were together”. The more two neurons fire together, the stronger the connection between them, and hence, the more difficult to “break” these connections.
The connection between neutron A and B is like a huge field covered with thick vegetation and the messenger has to cross it to deliver the message, being the message what you are learning. The first time the messenger crosses the field he has to make a real effort to get through the thick vegetation, however, the more often he does the journey the easier and faster he gets from A to B. This is the equivalence to practice. The more you practice something the easier and faster you do it. Then you continue practising and the pathway in the field becomes a road and eventually a highway. Once the messenger does not make the journey himself but he takes a bus, then, what you’ve learned becomes so automatic that is now part of your body. This is when your fingers know how to type your PIN number without you thinking of it consciously. What you have learned has become a habit.
Now imagine you want to change your habit. You send the messenger through this field to a different neuron. So, unless you make him consciously cross the field, he will take the bus, not only because it is easier and quicker, but because it’s automatic! You will have to practice the new habit so often until it becomes as fast, easy and automatic as the previous habit.
When you after a long period of time you send the messenger through the old highway (which is now no longer in use, no traffic, no buses) he will still find the way easy as quick because the asphalt is still there, even if the grass has begun growing over it.
This is as riding a bike or thinking about your parent’s landline number you used in childhood… I bet you still remember it!