In previous posts, I have discussed the potential power of automaticity.(see blog).To recap and summarize. automaticity refers to the neurological process of forming non cognitive, unconscious, automatic connections that lead to predictable, patterned behavior. This is commonly referred to as a habit. Research shows that 40% of daily routines are automatized. Does that seem high? Almost half of the day is potentially spent in a mindless, robotic, monotonous rhythm?
Consider a typical weekday. You get up. You go to the bathroom. you turn on the lights. you flush a toilet. you take a shower or you wash in the sink. You shave and brush your teeth and hair. You turn off the lights. Perhaps you make your bed and then you get dressed. Before you leave the bedroom you turn off the lights.
By the time you have made your way to the kitchen you have already completed over a dozen tasks and probably not aware of any of them. The reason is because there is no cognitive thought required any longer to successfully execute the morning routine. You’ve mastered the skill of rising, washing and dressing because you have repeated the actions so many times that it has become neurologically hardwired in the mid /lower level part of your brain. This is referred to as the basal ganglia and along with the hippocampus, are where habits and memory retrieval take place. The more daily habits you perform, the more you enlist your basal ganglia and therefore the more space you free up in your higher cognitive neo cortex. This is the conscious, thinking part of the brain responsible for problem solving, decision making and creativity. We refer to the amount of higher brain function as our “cognitive load”. For the best decision making, it is important not over tax the cognitive load. A common way to do this is by multitasking several cognitive behaviors at once. You cant successfully solve a budget problem while simultaneously picking up pieces of a broken glass. They both require separate awareness and focus to be completed successfully.
This is where automaticity can be most useful. With our increasingly hectic lives, it becomes a necessity to perform many tasks at once. In order to free up the cognitive load to stay focused of important, conscious thoughts, the remaining behaviors need to become good automatic habits. Once you become competent at your automatic habitual tasks, you lighten your cognitive load so that you can turn your attention to important, meaningful thoughts and actions.
Herein lies the potential problem. The more the daily routine becomes successfully automatized, the more the basal ganglia is functioning and the more available the cognitive neocortex is available. However, if conscious centers are not utilized, the risk rises for an overly automatized lifestyle. Just because there is more space for higher level cognitive learning and thinking doesn’t mean it gets recruited . Unless it is mindfully summoned, automaticity has the potential to take over far more than 40% of the daily routine. This mental stagnation can then lead to complacency, neglect and potential danger to our health and safety and threaten relationships. We must always be aware of the threat of getting stuck in a mental rut. A non growth, learning mindset with repetitive behaviors and fixed structural environment may evolve if not attended to. Its a natural cycle of being. Its how we attain our comfort zone. After years of deliberate conscious study and learning we perform our routines with enough competency to secure employment and achieve a level of security, comfort and status. Its safe to stick to theses daily rhythms and not challenge ourselves further. However, the higher cognitive brain is built for continual learning throughout our lives. It need s to be constantly recruited and challenged.

So whats the solution to this paradox?

1. Start with a growth mindset- Ignite new awareness and willingness to learn. Be curious to new ideas. Enlist the imagination and wonder you had as a child
2. Practice mindfulness- Why is it referred to as a wake up call? because your intentionally enlisting your higher awareness centers in your brain to be present in the moment and activate and appreciate all your senses. Pat attention to your surroundings . Look and the trees, smell the air, really taste you food. Mindfulness is a trainable muscle that can also become a healthy habit
3. Choose which habits are appropriate to automatize. Practicing and training good healthy lifestyle habits can not only free up your cognitive load, but can also ensure that the healthy keystone habits are performed daily which will ultimately boost your mindset and energy levels . if 40% of your daily routine comes from automatic habits, make them good ones!

Which healthy habits are worth automatizing in your life.

Which automatic behaviors do you need to disrupt and change? Please share