Not many of us have heard of the Hebbian Law of Repetition, but quite a few of us have heard the phrase, “Use It or Lose It”.

USE IT

The law I’m referring to comes from Canadian psychologist, Donald Hebb. He discovered that nerve cells that fire together, wire together. In other words, when you learn something new, you create new connections in your brain – that’s what learning is. And when you repeat what you’ve learned over and over again, it becomes a skill or habit.  It gets wired into your subconscious mind and you can do it without even consciously thinking about it. 

For example, when you first learned to drive, you had to think about each step…put your seat belt on, adjust your mirrors, check your blind spot before changing lanes, maintain a safe following distance…you get the point. Then, after some time, you were driving without having to think about it, and you could say you developed a habit or skill. 

Now, it works the same way when you are growing up and learning habits of how to live life (ways of thinking, acting, and reacting). In fact, by the time we’re 35 years old, 95% of who we are is a memorized set of behaviors, emotional reactions, hard-wired beliefs and perceptions that function like a computer program! So, most of us are spending our waking day in a subconscious program established in the PAST! Since only 5% of our thoughts are conscious and a whopping 95% of our thoughts subconscious, we are not even aware of why we do what we do…we might just say, “Well that’s just how I am”! 

And that is why it’s so hard to change!

Think about it…even if you say with the 5% of your conscious mind that you want to change a habit – let’s say procrastination – as soon as you get tired or stressed or frustrated…you’re going to go right back into the old habits. Why? Because that’s what feels natural, comfortable, and easy! It’s your program!

But WAIT! If we keep thinking the same thoughts, making the same choices, acting the same way…and secretly hoping things are going to change…isn’t that insanity (or at the very least a false assumption)?!

LOSE IT

Okay, so here’s the good news…and this is the other part of Hebb’s Law. Nerve cells that NO longer fire together NO longer wire together. So, what that means is when you decide – with the full weight of your personal conviction – that you no longer want to continue a habit or pattern of thinking, acting, or reacting – you can teach your body to respond in new ways.  How, you might ask? 

First, you practice becoming so aware and familiar with your unconscious habits that no longer serve you, that you could never go “unconscious” again!

Second, you decide to replace those habits with NEW habits! So, if you decide that procrastination is interfering with your important life goals, you notice when your mind begins to conjure up those old thoughts and excuses and say…STOP!  For example, you might “hear” yourself thinking, “Oh, I’ll just do that tomorrow, I’m way too busy today” or “I know I’ll never change anyway…everyone in my family is a procrastinator so why bother”? 

Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true! So, stop yourself and ask, “Why am I thinking that?” Then immediately choose a replacement thought, such as, “I’m just going to start this task now, even if I work on it for 15 minutes today”. Suddenly you’ve interrupted an old, habitual pattern of putting things off! 

And if you repeat this new thought followed by a new action, you will in fact change your brain…quite literally! If you watched what was happening in your brain in real-time you would see the new synaptic connections being formed as a result of the new habit you are practicing, and over time you would see the old connections associated with decisions around procrastination, start breaking or “pruning” apart!  How amazing is that? 

That is the “Use It or Lose It” phenomenon, and it means we are not destined to be the way we’ve always been. We have a choice!

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