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My milk was off again today so I had to take my tea black and a little bitter, sadly no drop of milk to change the taste. As I was sipping my morning brew I started to wonder if maybe I should just kick the habit of pouring that splash of white into my tea and save myself the heartbreak of missing it when I can’t have it.

Pondering this thought it occurred to me that I have quite a few habits I would like to break but sadly, like most people, I find it a little bit too hard. After all I still like that bit too much butter on my toast, taking the bus is so much easier than walking into town and thinking about doing things instead of actually doing them is so much less strenuous.

The reason why it is so hard to kick those bad or useless behaviors is that the brain forms patterns in a specific part of our brains (basal ganglia)and stores them there. So no matter how good the intentions if even the tiniest trigger shows up these patterns pick up the stimulus and we go into auto-pilot. The smell of freshly baked bread makes you forget about your “no carbs’ rule or the sight of a piece of chocolate overrules all your good intentions to maintain your diet and the bus pulling up convinces you that you can walk another day.

Of course we can kick any habit, no matter if the are good, bad, useless or just a tad annoying but it seems to take time, 28-66 days if you listen to psychologists. But besides being tenacious we need to be a bit stubborn, make up our minds and stick to it and reward ourselves to sticking to our guns. And when we have struggled through our period of testing and trying we come out the other end with a new pattern in our brains and possibly another bad one we picked up along the way.

For now I think I will stick with a splash of milk in my tea and to not be disappointed again tomorrow I will wander down to the corner shop and buy myself half a pint, or maybe a liter and make some banana pancakes.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.