Many people have asked me: why 21 days? My response could well have been: because it takes 21 days to form a new habit (or lose an old one)! Research shows, however, that this is most likely a myth, and that learning new habits takes far longer and is personal to who we are, and how we go about it. The reality is that my package had 21 elements that I wanted to convey, and whether 3 weeks is habit-forming or not, it requires a level of commitment, which I felt could lead to change.
But this did get me thinking about habits, and the door soon opened to the world of neuroplasticity: ‘the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life’. What this means is that with proper practice we can ‘trick our neural machinery to cultivate positive states of mind’ says author and psychologist Rick Hanson; that is quite literally rewire our brains to form new connections and weaken old. To me this sounded really exciting, and also hopeful – I could actually train myself to be happier!
Hanson talks about how we can overcome natural negativity bias by being intentional with our thoughts. He calls this “self-directed neuroplasticity,” which means if we control our attention (for example repeatedly focus on what we are grateful for, instead of what we resent) we can literally ‘rewire’ our brain.
We’ve touched upon this throughout the days, but two things keep coming back to me from the research I’ve read: mindfulness and gratitude. If I had to pick my top two these would be they, from my personal experience as well. Meditation, and being mindful (Hint 4), led to massive change for me, but largely when I practised regularly. Gratitude (Hint 1) is and was the other biggy. Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’. He says in order to use the mind to change the brain we have to really feel the experience for a time, “take steps, consciously, to keep that spotlight of attention on the positive.” Then, when motivation is low, or times are tough, we’ve already made steps to rewire our brain.
So what can you take away from our time together? For me I think there are four key points:
- Our brains can literally change so, with practice, it’s possible to learn new, healthy habits
- Learning and doing new things (in particular happiness-increasing activities) help our psychological well-being and emotional resilience
- Different approaches suit different people
- Doing a variety of exercises combats stagnation and delivers the best results
So see what you can incorporate into your day-to-day life. Can you manage a daily meditation or your nightly gratitude entry? Maybe occasionally play a happy song when you’re in the car or need cheering up? Or have a couple of hours out from your usual tech? Can you, as you go along, speak more kindly to yourself and focus on the positives? So try to mix them up. See what works for you. My hope is that eventually, these ‘habits’ will become natural, that your daily well-being will improve, and in harder times you will be more resilient.
Enjoy, have fun, and be happy!
Please click here for further research on Learning New Habits.