A goal of yoga is to clear the obstacles of the mind - our irrational thoughts and behaviour patterns - so that we can think and act clearly, and in the best interest of ourselves and others.
When we are looking to improve our lives, we need to improve our actions. It is our day-to-day behaviour that shapes the direction our lives will take. It has been estimated that 45% of our daily activities are actually habits, so it is incredibly important that our habits are serving us positively.
Habits form when something that at one point was a fully conscious decision, begins to happen automatically. On a neurological level this makes total sense - our brain has a finite capacity, and by putting particular behaviours onto auto-pilot, our brain can conserve energy for more important tasks.
Charles Duhigg has identified what he calls ‘the habit loop’ - cue, routine, reward. The cue can be any kind of trigger - a particular time of day, a place, a certain visual stimulus or an emotional state. This cue triggers an urge to follow a particular behaviour pattern, with an associated reward. This is great when the habit serves us - for example, we finish breakfast, and without making a conscious decision to do so, we go and brush our teeth. But the danger is when the habit goes against what we truly know to be best for our well-being. i.e. We feel our phones buzz in our pockets, we check our messages, and then spend the next hour mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, with the associated dopamine hit.
The great news is that we are not Pavlov’s dogs - we are self-determined beings, and can meditate the habit loop through decision making. We can actively decide whether to react habitually, or whether to consciously respond in a way that is helpful to us. Research has shown that all habits are malleable and can be changed, at any point in life. So we got the power!
Understanding the habit loop means that we can put a few tricks in place to support ourselves to make positive decisions.
1. First, we need to identify which habits to ditch. Ask- does this behaviour serve or hinder my interests, happiness and success, and the happiness and success of others?
2. Next, we need to identify the cues that are leading to poor habits. Being aware of these triggers means that we can either remove them from our environment, or, when they pop up, we are aware of why we are craving particular behaviours and rewards, and can create a little mental space to act more consciously.
3. Create new beneficial habit loops for yourself. Pick a cue - something that happens every day like your alarm going off or brushing your teeth, and pair it with a behaviour. Use the formula: After I _______ I will _______.
4. Start small - it’s tempting to want to do a major overhaul all at once. This is great at first, but motivation is a fickle beast. Research has shown that you’re better of implementing and cementing one small change at a time.
5. Get a support crew - having a friend or community behind you will get you through in moments of self doubt.
6. Give yourself small wins. Celebrate with a self-high-5 each time you successfully complete your new behaviour. These small wins are little pieces of evidence that will help you to believe that it is possible to create genuine, long term change.
So how does yoga help? A yoga practice literally forces us to slow down, breathe, and pay attention to what is going on inside our bodies and minds. The clear mental space created makes it just that bit easier to identify our patterns - positive and negative, and allows us to create a little buffer before we react automatically. Yoga reminds us to pause, breathe, see clearly, and act consciously.
If you’re curious about bringing the awesomeness of yoga into your workplace or doing a private class, get in touch.
And if you want to learn more about habits and behaviour, here are a couple of fantastic videos:
This interview with Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit’
This Ted Talk by BJ Fogg on the importance of starting small.