Post No.: 0040
It’s far more difficult to change a habit than to start one – so it’s best to build good habits in from the very start. We are creatures of habit (like all creatures really) and find habits and routines hard to break. We have a great capacity to learn and adapt because of our brains, yet the formative early years of one’s life are still the most critical for setting habits. (Babies are learning at a faster rate than they’ll ever learn in their lives so don’t be surprised how quickly they pick up things.)
Habits and routines can be formed or broken at any age but it’s far easier when young. Habits are incredibly hard to modify due to the brain’s changing plasticity and elasticity as it ages (the ability for new things, such as behaviours, to easily stick akin to a fingerprint on plasticine when young versus how things tend to want to return to how it was previously like akin to an elastic band when old) – the brain becomes in general progressively more and more relatively elastic as we age. Although not impossible in most cases – the task of changing particularly long-used and frequently-used habits is not trivial and should not be underestimated.
For example, the first few years of one’s life are crucial for the acquisition of a particular language. The optimal critical period for picking up a particular language is before 7 years old (or really as soon as possible after 18 months) – this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn a new language when older but it generally progressively requires more effort, motivation and dedication if it’s not first nurtured within the first few years. Some birds use the stars to navigate the night sky, but if a bird is not exposed to the night sky in its first year of life then it will never learn to navigate the night sky no matter how much exposure it seems to receive thereafter. This is not quite but almost like how, for us, a language becomes gradually more difficult to learn if one doesn’t learn it early. So even though we possess innate predispositions to learn certain skills, these skills must still be learnt, and the optimum opportunity to learn may be time critical. Woof.
Another example is healthy diet and regular physical activity habits. Although not true for everyone (because some people can face very different key life events, influences or pressures, both enabling and disabling) – there are clear and consistent trends that those who participated in and enjoyed regular physical activities when young (whether formal sports and/or informal play) tend to continue in their physical activity habits when older. Regarding diets – most people primarily prefer the types of foods they predominantly ate as a child (e.g. their father and/or mother’s cooking). Lives are path dependent i.e. yesterday affected today, today will affect tomorrow, and so on in an unbroken causal chain.
So prevention, or starting desired habits from the beginning, is far more effective and efficient than attempting cures, or trying to change ingrained habits later. Being fit, for instance, is having a body that works well and feels good, and that is achieved by, amongst other things – eating healthily, doing a lot of regular physical activities, and sticking to these habits and routines preferably starting from young.
Good parenting is about taking care of the probabilistic long-term outcomes of one’s children. Things may not turn out as planned but if you more often that not make the best decisions you can at the time you make them (rather than e.g. seek temporary ‘quick-fixes’, ‘shortcuts’ or ‘low effort solutions’ such as a reliance on feeding your children highly-processed convenience foods most of the time, or too often giving them an electronic device and plonking them on the sofa just so that you can easily keep an eye on them and subdue them) then no one can ask for anything more.