My 15-year-old daughter is learning to drive.
She is my 4th child learning to drive, and I get freaked out every time.
What is amazing is how every single one of them say things like:
“I don’t know how anyone texts and drives. I’m never going to do that.”
“This is stressful”
“I don’t know how people even drive one-handed.”
Hands are 10 and 2. Eyes are forward. Radio is off. Hands are fully gipped. Total concentration.
Then 6 months later they are bopping and bouncing in the car to music. Driving one handed. Driving with the window down and one hand out the window making waves. Driving while talking on the phone (hands free, but still, they would never have dreamed of doing this 6 months before!)
How did they do from so attentive and honestly petrified going 20 MPH in the neighborhood to driving down the road at 50 MPH with barely a care?
Habits. Habits is what happened.
And the same thing happens to us all the time.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg references research done on rats that shows brain activity. When the rats were engaged in a new task their brain activity was high the whole time.
This was new. This was different and it took full attention.
Once the rats had done the same task a few times, there was a bump in brain activity at the beginning of the task, then, because the task has become a habit, the brain activity can drop down and then bump back up at the end.
This brain phenomenon is called “chunking.” It’s your brain automatically batching a bunch of activities together and when done consistently your brain can reserve power by doing it with much less brain power than the first time.
Think of your own driving.
You probably don’t pay a whole lot of attention to when you back out of the driveway. You’ve done it so often it is…well…a habit. Your brain has chunked the hundreds of small actions together into a seamless, repetitive action that takes very little thought.
When someone is a brand-new driver, everything is new. Your brain is on full alert. You are aware of everything and fully focused.
Six months later, it feels like you’ve done this hundreds of times and you start to slip into behavior “chunking.”
And in driving, that is where things get dangerous because the “chunking” tricks us into thinking we could do other things, like text, and be just fine…right up until we aren’t.
This is exactly why new habits are so difficult.
All this brain stuff is great! Keeps us from having to exert extreme mental energy all the time.
It is also the exact reason that new habits are so difficult.
Once your brain has wired in a certain way to do something, breaking that “chunking” of behaviors is a challenge.
Have you ever meant to stop somewhere on the way home from work? Then you mindlessly drive home, pull into the driveway, and suddenly realize you forgot the errand you were supposed to run?
That same thing happens every time you want to change something in your habits.
Your own brain and the patterns of life you’ve already created get in the way of the progress you want to make.
How do you make it easier to build habits?
In his research, BJ Fogg found that “Success leads to success. But here’s something that may surprise you. The size of the success doesn’t seem to matter very much. When you feel successful at something, even if it’s tiny, your confidence grows quickly, and your motivation increases to do that habit again and perform related behaviors.
“Surprisingly enough, this gets created by the frequency of your successes, not by the size. So…you are shooting for a bunch of tiny successes done quickly. Not a big one that takes a long time.”
That’s the key to start the process of rewiring the “chunks” of behaviors in your brain. Create and celebrate the success of each small step along the way.
Don’t wait to celebrate a small change until you’ve done something big.
Your brain won’t wait that long, and you will find yourself slipping back into old patterns, even if you don’t want to.
But, if you celebrate a small success, your brain will clamp onto that and want to repeat it. Another small success and you’ve added even more power. Win again, no matter how small, and you are well on your way to building the habit you want rather than the action you are currently stuck in.
Give it a try today. Find something small you want to change. Make it really small. Something you can do in 5 minutes or less.
Take action today and celebrate!
Momentum is now on your side and you keep it rolling by hitting a “bunch of tiny successes done quickly.”
My Happily Ever Habits guide is perfect for finding and sticking to these kind of small, life-changing habits!
I wish you luck on your effort to make a small change. I hope I have the same luck with getting through my daughters driving!