Do you remember that idea you had? Yeah, that one! The one that kept you up all night as you thought about bringing it to life. The one that you knew would be hard, but this time — oh this time — you would put in the work to make it a reality.
Yup, that’s the one… whatever happened with that?
If you’re like most people, you can think back to some idea, aspiration, or goal that in the moment raised the hairs on your skin and sent chills down your spine. Thanks to a very small portion of our brains called the prefrontal cortex, painting vivid pictures of our future selves is exciting and easy to do. The problem, however, is that our prefrontal cortex is pretty late (fashionably late, I might add) to the party when it comes to human evolution. If you’re going to achieve big, audacious goals, you’re going to need the help of the more primitive portions of your brain, and you’re going to have to use them to alter your unconscious actions.
If you’re cold, you put on a jacket. If you’re hungry, you find the nearest food source. If you’re done dreaming of your glorious future and know that it’s time to knuckle down and start doing stuff, you stop… you get the picture.
The most ancient part of our brains — our reptilian brain — controls regulatory processes like body temperature and blood glucose levels, and releases various hormones to keep you in balance 24 hours a day. Our slightly more evolved brain — our limbic system — is involved in behavioral and emotional responses to create memories for things that are agreeable and not-so-agreeable. That time you quickly swerved in traffic to avoid a major accident? You can thank your limbic system for snapping into action and avoiding the probable outcome of getting seriously injured.
As these two systems have been around for quite some time, it’s no wonder that your prefrontal cortex often surrenders to your most archaic desires, even when you know they are not in your best interest. Luckily, you can hack these two systems to work with your goals instead of against them.
The two things our reptilian brain and limbic system have in common is they like stuff to be pretty automatic. You don’t have time to think about how many breaths you should take today, or contemplate whether you should run from a tiger on the loose. You roam about all day long with these systems on autopilot so you can focus on more pressing matters — like when your favorite television show is coming on next, and why “The Bachelorette,” chose that scumbag anyway…. (thanks for the updates, mom!)
In fact, your reptilian brain and limbic system like to do things without much thought. So much so that any habit that leverages these two systems will put your desired actions into cruise control, letting you achieve just about anything you design into it — given enough time and… notice I didn’t say effort.
Do a bit of research, too. Chances are, you’re not the only person out there trying to achieve this goal, and you’ll find many tips and tricks to help you along the way. Who knows — you might abandon this goal altogether when you find out you should probably have a baseline understanding of HTML and CSS first — go figure! You’ll at least know the ideal place to start before beating yourself up for failing.
Be realistic with yourself when designing habits. The old adage “know thyself” works here, and as it turns out, nobody knows “thy” better than you do.
At just five minutes a day, chances are you’re not going to be winning any awards for your coding abilities in a short six- to eight-month period, but in truth, you’re probably going to become pretty darn good. The trick behind dedicating a non-negotiable five minutes per day to learning your new skill is that it is pretty easy to implement. You’ll find yourself celebrating the fact that you stuck with your dedicated habit, and because starting is often the hardest part, many days those five minutes will turn into hours — if your schedule allows — and you fall deeper and deeper into the material.
The main thing is that this celebratory behavior removes the pressure and reiterates to your limbic system and reptilian brain that you’re doing a good job, and there is no need to panic. This positive feedback makes an additional five minutes even easier, and before you know it, this little habit we designed will have proliferated your life — just like brushing your teeth does in the morning and at night. (I didn’t mean to rhyme here, but I thought I’d point it out.)
So get out there! Set your Big, Audacious Goals and break them down into little bite-sized pieces you know you can handle. Before you know it, your habits will become a part of you and you won’t label them habits at all. Suddenly, they will simply become YOU — with the amazing benefits you specifically design them for.