Check out this video from Destin Sandlin on his popular YouTube channel, Smarter Every Day. It’s almost eight minutes, but watch it all the way through.
What Sandlin explores is key for improving our performance — in sports and in other areas of our lives. He demonstrates the importance of HABIT and hints at the neuroscience underpinning it.
When Sandlin is first trying to ride the “backwards bike,” he fails because the habit is so firmly established in his brain. The neural pathways, in a sense, are “hard-wired” and difficult to overwrite. The “wiring” (long-term potentiation of synapses) is found throughout the brain, but particularly in the basal ganglia upon which procedural memories (like riding a bike) rely.
So, when we are trying to change a habit, we are trying to rearrange the synaptic potentials throughout the brain. This takes time, effort, and persistence, as Sandlin readily demonstrates in eventually learning to ride the backwards bike.
In a post from 2013, I describe ways to overwrite these old pathways in order to establish new habits, especially through deliberate practice. (The old pathways may not disappear, but they become weaker and slower to be triggered.) It’s worth reexamining those strategies now:
~ Write down your goals
~ Describe the potential roadblocks (and what you’ll do specifically when you encounter them)
~ Increase self-control. (Self-control is best thought of as a limited resource — but one which can be bolstered and expanded.)
~ Monitor yourself.
~ Avoid self-licensing (allowing yourself to back-off or indulge when you have previously acted in accordance with a goal)
~Surf the urge (mindfully riding out temptations to engage in the old behavior, temptations, fatigue, etc.)