Power of Habit and Spiritual Disciplines

The book, The Power of Habit, the author shares and experiment involving rats running through a maze. There were rats that ran through a maze several times a day for several days. 

"As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, its mental activity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less. It was as if the first few times a rat explored the maze, its brain had to work at full power to make sense of all the new information. But after a few days of running the same route, the rat didn’t need to scratch the walls or smell the air anymore, and so the brain activity associated with scratching and smelling ceased. It didn’t need to choose which direction to turn, and so decision-making centers of the brain went quiet. All it had to do was recall the quickest path to the chocolate."

The only thing that I could think of as I read the above paragraph in the book was this is part of the intent of spiritual practices/disciplines. 

If you have ever tried to begin a new spiritual practice, say meditation or scripture reading, you may find that it is a difficult thing to do. You have to 'think' about it a lot which makes it labor intensive and exhausting and difficult to do. All of which generally does not encourage one to continue on.

So the new discipline is abandoned.

But the rat experiment says to me that at the moments that your working the hardest, your brain is working hard to make it easier in the long run. After a while, you will no longer have to think about how to meditate or pray or sit in silence. Your brain will have pathways set up so that you fall right into habit mode.

Many religious people have this romantic notion that they will not do something spiritual unless they "really mean it". So preachers sometimes say things like, "Lets say the Lord's Prayer like we really mean it." As though just saying it out of habit is a negative thing or something that is less than total cognitive awareness.

But habits are not a negative thing at all. Habits shape our lives. 

When was the last time you really thought about the way you brush your teeth? Or to put it another way, when was the last time you brushed your teeth like you "really meant it"?

This is the point. Just because we do not do something without "really meaning it" does not mean it is really without meaning.