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Claim Your Tea Time By Understanding Habit
Habit is a powerful force in our lives, whether we realize it or not. It’s why we’ve never skipped brushing our teeth since childhood (ok, mostly never) and why some people seem to have the superpower of always remembering to take their makeup off before they go to bed, no matter how tired they are. Some of the most consistent parts of our lives are part of our lives in the first place due in large part to habit. When you have to think less about something, it’s a lot easier to just do it.
The neurology of a habit
Even as adults, our brains are surprisingly malleable. We may not create new brain cells like other parts of our organs, but the connections between individual neurons can change, and does with regular behavior. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. The branch-like parts of neurons called “dendrites” connect different neurons to each other. When we fall out of a habit, these connections weaken; when we reinforce an activity, the connection is reinforced, and parallel connections between neurons are made.
The more a basketball player shoots, the more his brain undergoes physical changes to accommodate that action. He ends up having to give less conscious thought to his actions, and in fact engaging in this flow-like state can have even better results than self-conscious activity. Routine is similar to skills when it comes to our brain’s structure. Making a novel decision or action requires more mental energy than engaging in the usual activity because your brain already has your routine “programmed” as the default with all of those connections reinforced. This is the current consensus in modern psychology and why so many people engage in non-constructive, or worse, destructive behaviors: [t]he design of the brain may predispose us to taking the easy way out. The analogy of our behavior taking the path of least resistance is incredibly appropriate. It is not impossible to change our habits—to alter our flow.
The process of making and enjoying tea is one that most people never really consider to be a habit, even though there’s an obvious difference between those who manage to do it every day with consistency and those who keep up with it for a few weeks and then stop. The latter group may find a tea they like and make it a daily ritual for a while, but after a few days or weeks they start to miss days and eventually give it up entirely. Maybe that describes you. You may be thinking, “well, it’s not the end of the world, it’s only a cup of tea. I’m still on top of making my bed every morning.” True, a daily tea habit isn’t one of the things that your parents drilled into you, but it is a worthwhile task to cultivate to give yourself a pocket of “me time” built into everyday. This healthy habit will help you avoid mindlessly grabbing a sugary soda on the go. Nobody plans to become a two-a-day soda drinkers, but because it is ostensibly easier to grab a soda and go rather than brewing a soul-warming cup of just-brewed tea.
In many cultures, the daily tea making process is set apart as a time for contemplation or even meditation. After waking up, steeping the first cup of tea of the day gives you a chance to think about your goals for the day, setting you up for success before the sleep is even out of your eyes. Take the time to be present and enjoy the process of making your tea, from heating up your water to pouring the finished product into your waiting cup. Don’t just go through the motions.
Making it a habit
If you usually drink your tea in the evening, follow the same process but use it as a time to unwind and reflect on the day’s events. There’s nothing more relaxing than a steamy cup of tea after a long day, and you can still feel “productive” in knowing that you’re reinforcing a healthy habit, and preventing the formation of an unhealthy one in its place!
The trick is to commit to it and be consistent. Habits are most successful when they occur at the same time every day, such as immediately after rising or right before going to bed. You could also incorporate it into the daily routine you already have going by sandwiching it in between, say, showering and reading the newspaper.
It’s also important to keep all the necessary supplies on hand so that you’re stocked with delicious teas and don’t have to interrupt your day by making a special trip to the grocery store. Steep Lab’s subscription service can really come in handy here by providing high quality teas right to your door. And by cutting out part of the decision-making process, you shed the fear of making the “wrong” choice in tea. With just a few days of reinforcement, you’ll naturally start to have cravings for a cup of delicious tea. The best habits are the ones you actually look forward to!
A tea habit provides a natural time in every day to take a break from your hectic schedule and get in touch with yourself. It’s a simple way to enjoy a healthy beverage and manage stress at the same time. This calming process can separate you from your day-to-day tasks, and allow you to stop and take a breather. In a world where everyone is constantly glued to their phone or computer, it’s nice to have a daily activity that can take you away from those things. Regardless, it’s certainly a lot better habit to reinforce than mindlessly pressing a button on your space-age coffee maker, or worse, barking at a barista for your morning beverage.