Post By: Mark Cheney | Thursday, June 18, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS HABITS

“People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures.” – F. Matthias Alexander

A habit is an automatic behavior that is triggered by an environmental cue. The cue sparks a craving, which leads to a behavior. The behavior provides a reward that satisfies the craving. Over time, a habit becomes engrained and does not require conscious thought. Habits can include actions, thinking patterns, self-talk, and emotional reactions.

Good habits are energy and time-savers. They simplify decision-making, leaving more mental energy and willpower for your most important work. Whether it's exercising, eating healthy, staying off your phone during a meeting, or even wearing the same outfit every day like Jason Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, good habits set you up for success.

Bad habits, however, are negative behaviors that typically offer short-term rewards and long-term consequences. For example, your brain recognizes that eating that doughnut in the staff lounge provides calories in a handy, tasty package. In short, you feel better after eating it. After a while, the brain starts to look to the doughnut as a means of feeling good, even if you don't need the calories. When you don't feel good, when you're tired, frustrated, or stressed, the brain has a craving to feel better, and the doughnut comes to the rescue. Thus forms a habit of stress eating and the associated health problems.

When people talk about breaking bad habits, they are engaged in a futile effort. Because habits are based on neural pathways in the brain, they can't be “broken.” They can, however, be discouraged. Since habits are context-specific, changing the environment is an effective approach. If a person tends to smoke while drinking alcohol, avoiding an alcohol fueled environment eliminates the trigger to the bad habit. Making the behavior inconvenient also works. If you mindlessly watch TV when you sit on the coach, simply moving the remote control to another room will make it less likely that you turn on the TV. Finally diminishing the reward can reduce the likelihood of engaging in the harmful behavior.

So, who was F. Matthias Alexander? Alexander was a 19th century Australian actor who experienced career-threatening laryngitis during his performances. When doctors could not help him, he developed his own cure, now known as the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique is designed to help performers recognize and overcome the harmful habits they have built up over a lifetime of stress.

Because habits, by definition, are unconscious behaviors, we may not be aware of our habits. Often, an external, objective source of information is required. Such a source could be a mirror, video, or a coach. Alexander discovered what modern research has confirmed. If you can recognize the trigger and/or craving, you can change interrupt the cycle and change the behavior. Rather than breaking the habit, you form a new one.

Habits are formed through the repetition of a new, desired behavior in the presence of a cue, quickly followed by a reward. A recent study has shown that habits can form in anywhere from 18-254 days, with 66 days being average. They can be facilitated by linking to an established action (e.g. I will do 10 pushups every time I brush my teeth), making the behavior more convenient (e.g. having a home gym instead of driving to the gym), or by providing a rapid reward.

Understanding is the key to habit formation – understanding how habits form, how you work, what your cravings are, and what your desired behaviors are. A Mindurance consultant can help you work through the understanding process of self-observation, awareness, and redirection of your actions. In so doing, you'll change your future.