Making and breaking
decision-shaping habits
- part I - 

Intention without action harms self-confidence. 

This was written on the whiteboard at last week's workshop, where I learned some key life-altering things from Cristina and Andrei, two of the best people I know. 

But how can even the best intentions harm us?  

It has to do with neuroplasticity, our brain's ability to change through learning. 

The relation between neuroplasticity and learning is an easy one to surmise—when we learn, we form new pathways in the brain. Each new lesson has the potential to connect new neurons and change our brain’s default mode of operation.

And when our brain changes, so do our habits. 

However, when our intention to make the change or build a new habit lacks follow-through, the confidence in our ability to make that change drops dramatically. 

Here's a personal example you may be familiar with: I started going to the gym at least 7 times in the past 15 years, but the longest run I had was 7 months (which ended in a small lower back hernia for me, essentially taking this option off the table for me for good).

Each time I tried to start over, my faith in my ability to make it a habit dropped a bit. I was kidding myself. I did not see myself as the gym-goer type. I lacked the follow-through. 

Each time we start building a habit and fail to do so, our self-confidence decays. And it starts with overestimating our willpower and unrealistic expectations

Willpower isn't infinite

"People have imperfect knowledge of their own willpower", which often leads us to overestimate how much of it we can spend on building new, healthy habits. 

The issue is that our lives are packed with events (of our own doing or otherwise) that require us to spend our willpower so we can keep our reactions in check, control our impulses and behave according to our guiding principles (or fit within our society's standards). 

This includes:

  • refraining from lashing out when provoked at work
  • not cursing at other drivers in city traffic
  • not walking out of boring meetings
  • avoiding bumping into people on the street whose eyes are so glued to their phone that they forgot anything else exists around them and so on.

We all have our lists of stuff that pisses us off or triggers us to experience full-blown rage. 

This is why we start our days with a healthy breakfast but end up overdosing on snacks after dinner. 

This is why we can't make it to the gym in the evening because we feel so depleted that we can only think of the Netflix & chill combo. 

So when we decide we're going to start eating less sugar, taking up running or sleeping 8h/night, we're adding strain to our willpower, wrongly assuming that we have an endless amount to cover all we want to achieve.

Our brain defaults to the most used path (if tired, then Netflix & chill) when lacking the resources to build a new one (see the neuroplasticity concept above). 

Naturally, there's a choice we can make here: altering our lives to that the events that use up most of our willpower are eliminated, as much as possible, thus making room for building new habits. 

While we discussed this during the workshop, I easily spotted at least 5 key things in my life that eat up my willpower: 

  • picking what to wear on any given day
  • the daily commute 
  • meetings at work 
  • the challenges in my relationship with my mother 
  • my tendency to overwork myself to the point of burnout.

When you make a list like this, it's easy to spot what you need to work on and figure out what decisions you can make to improve your life. 

Stay tuned for part II

I was tempted to pack everything I learned during the workshop in a single newsletter but I don't want to take up too much of your willpower. (See what I did there? 😁)

So next week I'll share the rest of the ideas and resources about how to build new habits and how our core human needs can help us break our bad habits

Here are a couple of book recommendations I picked up from Cristina and Andrei, in case you're looking for a good read that, if you decide to act on, can make a meaningful positive change in your life: 

Extra stuff: 

Have a beautiful weekend ahead! 

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