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Episode 5: Another One Bites the Dust?

Video Highlights

Hi everybody.

Dr. Cobb here again, talking with you about habits and awareness.

One of the things that has come to light over the years of studying the brain is that our currently existing habits often cause challenges when we try to install new ones. Here’s why:

As I mentioned in previous episodes on the blog, it’s really important to understand that a lot of life is really lived unconsciously. We go through our daily routines. (A routine basically means something that’s automatic.) Whenever we’re going through our automatic day-to-day behaviors, it’s really, really challenging to install new stuff, new habits, things that are good for us.

What I want to bring up with you this week is the idea of awareness. Modern technology has tried to help us with it. Our devices say, “You know what, we’re going to give you all these different alarm systems. You can set up alarms in your email and on your computer to remind you to get up and sorts of different things.”

I’d like to challenge their usefulness with two concepts. Number one, whenever we are trying to install a new habit — say flossing or giving up a specific type of food or speaking differently to our significant after a stressful day of work — we have to be reminded of it far more often than once a day.

One of the challenges that you run into is you go into your email and say, “Hey, I’m going to set an alarm to remind me to be nice when I get home, to take a couple of minutes to breathe and relax before I go and dump all my troubles on my significant other.” Yet, if we only get that reminder once a day, very often, that is an insufficient amount of stimulus or an insufficient amount of awareness for our brain to really begin figuring out how to make the change happen.


One of the tools that we talk about often in Z-Health is utilizing a lot of repetition in order to create a change. If there’s a habit that you want to install in your life, I would highly suggest that you get some kind of device, something for your iPad, your iPhone, or your computer that will remind you over and over throughout the day that you’re working on a specific habit change. You may need to see it 12, 16, 18 times every day as a reminder.


Graphic of a chalk outline head with a red brain that says 'old habits.'

At first, you’ll say, “Oh, I can’t believe I keep forgetting that.” But you won’t keep doing that forever. In a relatively short period of time, the reminders are going to start changing your brain structure so that you begin making that habit happen more regularly.

The number one thing, as I said, is you need something to gives you awareness. The second concept, which plays into awareness, is novelty. Novelty in the sense that something feels new on a regular basis. One of the challenges that occurs, even when you’re using outside technology to make you aware of the habits that you want to change, is that we can become accustomed to seeing certain reminders.

Lots and lots of people that I’ve worked with have been told, “Hey, I want you to get up from your desk every 20 minutes or every hour, take a break, move around, move your eyes around for general health benefits.” They say, “Okay, I got that. I’ll set a timer at my desk.” Very quickly, what happens is they become accustomed to the timer and they just turn it off. You can see why it is really useful to try to come up with new, novel ways to challenge your brain to become aware on a regular basis.

Personally, I go from using my iPhone reminders to using sticky notes. Sometimes, if I want to remind myself for the next week to get up from my desk regularly, I might take a small dot, an office dot that would go on a file, and stick it on my computer screen. Every time I see it, it’s a little feedback reminder. I say, “Oh yeah, I’m supposed to get up and move a little bit.”

I want to challenge you this week to do two things.

Number one: Don’t buy into the myth that being reminded once a day is sufficient to help you change your habits. In most cases, you’re going to need a lot more repetition than that. Utilize whatever technology’s available to you to create that repetition.

Number two: As you plan out the next few weeks and months, figure out new ways to remind yourself to make that awareness novel. If you combine those two things, you’ll have incredible tools to help you make changes based on how your brain is wired. Changes that are not only good for you, but that will last for as long as you want them to.

Next week, we’re going to finish up talking about habits, talking about what I consider to be the number one myth that’s out there with regards to habit — the 21-day habit change myth.

I’m looking forward to sharing that with you.

Have a great week.

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