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Want to Unravel the Mystery of Habits…

What do you think largely determines your choices, behavior, beliefs and thoughts?  You know that instant response that happens before you even think.  It’s your habits, those unconscious, automatic choices that surround you each day. They guide how you get dressed in the morning and fall asleep at night. They affect what you eat, how you do business, whether or not you exercise and most importantly, how you practice your craft of singing and performing in every aspect, each and every day.

Charles Duhigg’s New York Times bestseller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business says, “Each of our habits has a different catalyst and offers a unique payoff. Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes”.

Most people believe you can change a habit with a lot of willpower, or by putting multiple post-it-notes on your bathroom mirror. How many times have you tried this and failed?  It’s not a matter of lack of determination, but merely a lack of understanding of how your habits are truly built. Here’s the deal, all habits, more or less, follow the same process. There is usually a routine around your habit that starts by triggering a cue you have put in place to initiate this habitual process, which ultimately culminates in a reward of some kind. It can be a good or bad reward, like self talk that applauds or reprimands you. Or it can be anything from eating a donut to taking a walk in the park.

FYI, during extensive studies of the underpinnings of habit in the 1990s, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit. All habits, it turns out, consist of three parts: a routine, a reward and a cue. The researchers dubbed this the “habit loop.”

To help you access your very own unconscious routine around you habit, the cue that triggers it and the reward that satisfies it, answer these questions.

  • Where are you when the process starts?
  • What time is it?
  • What’s your emotional state?
  • Who else is around?
  • What action preceded the urge?

Once you have consciously found the routine, cue and reward, it’s time to help make a change by putting a plan in place that would help you respond differently to the cue. This in essence is creating a new and very conscious synaptic in your brain that fires the cue, and starts building a new neuron pathway that starts by triggering the routine, the cue and the reward. That means that instead of doing what you always did and always getting the same results, you now have the opportunity to actually and consciously make a habit whose reward will in fact, benefit and support what you are going to accomplish. Know that you have to be super conscious each and every moment you want to fire off this new process of making your new habit. Each time you are able to do this process successfully, you are binding the synapses together with something called myelin. And with each new conscious firing, the binding becomes stronger and stronger until you don’t have to think about it anymore, it just cues up and you are good to go. The best news is that the old habitual synaptic simply atrophies unable to haunt you anymore.

So as you put your voice in any piece of music you are learning, make sure you think through carefully and decide, step-by-step, exactly what you are going to do technically. Cue it up, then do it and observe where you fall off the horse without trying to fix anything. When you finish the phrase, go back and look at, hear and feel physically those particular spots. Then cue up this new process again by consciously thinking it through, then sing it only observing, not trying to change anything. The more meticulous and consistent you are about this habit building process, the quicker it will become the prefered habit. You know what I think about habits, now I’d like to hear from you. Avanti and Ciao, Carol   

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