WHAT ARE HABITS AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
In order to understand how habits work you must first know where habits are formed. Habits are formed in the Basal Ganglia of the brain. The Basal Ganglia is the layer of the brain that helps us recall patterns and act on them. The Thalamus and superior parietal cortex are associated with pattern recognition and helping the brain decide which input to pay attention to and which to ignore. It’s called chunking. Chunking is when the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routing. Habits are one of the most powerful things people have. They are the reason we are able to do certain things without thinking, such as brushing our teeth in the morning or waking up and making a cup of coffee.
Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings and the brain controls everything we do. There is also what is called a “habit circle”. This is how a habit works: first you have a cue, meaning something that you recognize. Then you begin to crave or anticipate the reward following the cue, so in the middle, you do what the cue prompts you to do. This is your routine. Habits are solely based on creating a craving.
A very important type of habit is called a “keystone habit”. Keystone habits are small wins. With keystone habits, success doesn’t depend on getting everything right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and turning them into powerful levers. For example, if your diet is less than ideal, start with a small step. Add is a healthy breakfast and once that is mastered, move on to food options for lunch and dinner.
Habits really never disappear. The brain can’t distinguish between good and bad. It looks for cues with the anticipation of the reward.
In 2009, there was a study done about weight loss from the National Institute of Health. They put together this study with 1600 obese people and asked them to write down everything they ate at least one day per week. It didn’t work the way they expected but the participants started making it a daily routine. They started to look at the posts and found patterns they didn’t see prior to the journaling. Some people realized that they always ate a snack at a certain time so they started packing something healthy in anticipation of eating at that time. They routine created was packing and eating something healthy. Some people started writing down what they were going to have so they made sure they were going to eat healthy. The keystone habit of this study was journaling food which ended up making other habits more successful. Six months into the study, the people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as the people who did not.
We should all aim to create healthy habits. If you have bad habits, figure out how to change the routine to create an equal or better stimulating reward. It takes roughly two months to create a habit. If there is a new habit you need to create or change, get started today! If you want to look further into how to make or break habits, get a copy of the book: The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Doin Life and Business – by Charles Duhigg.