How habits change your brain

When was the last time you did something without thinking about it? You operated purely on autopilot?

It’s a tough question to ask since habits are by definition, unconscious, and awareness on the other hand is pure consciousness.

No matter whether it was a good habit, like brushing your teeth, or an undesirable habit like smoking, the fact is that you’ve performed that action or behaved in that certain way so many times it is now physically wired into your brain.

This amazing adaptive quality of your brain is known as neuroplasticity.

Your brain forms neuronal connections based on what you do repeatedly in your life — both good and bad.

David Eagleman writes in “Incognito”: “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behaviour appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.”

This is a smart move on the brains part. You see, the less consciousness (or effort) involved in making decisions throughout the day, the more energy is conserved. Our ancient reptilian brains needed energy for more pressing survival issues back in the day, thus we adapted to converse energy as much as possible.

Debbie Hampton explains:

“When you first try to adopt a new behaviour, you have to enlist your prefrontal cortex, the thinking brain, and insert conscious effort, intention, and thought into the process. When you’ve performed the new routine enough times for connections to be made and strengthened in your brain, the behaviour will require less effort as it becomes the default pattern.”

This is why bad habits are so hard to break. But before you get all down on the challenge of rewiring bad habits, view this information as a positive confirmation that you ARE able to change.

Enthusiasm is common. Commitment is rare!

So how do you rewire your brain for more positive habits?

It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a "habit loop," which is a four-part process. First, there's a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behaviour unfold.

Second, there is a craving - they are the motivational force behind every habit. As James Clear writes, “without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.”

The third step is the response or routine. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behaviour. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it.

Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. Rewards satisfy our craving, as well as teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future. This is how bad habits can be so easy to pick up.

Read on here to learn about how to create better habits

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