Habits – the Science Behind Them


Have you ever stopped to think about ‘habitual patterning’ and the reasoning behind why you do what you do? We are what we repeatedly do. Habits, we all have them. Healthy habits and not so healthy habits. Ever wondered what motivates habits and influences sustainable behaviour change? Ever tried to pick up a new habit like starting a new exercise regiment? Perhaps you have thought about trying to drop a habit that isn’t serving you like smoking, or nail biting? A habit can be defined as a regular tendency or practice carried out in your day to day life.

HOW HABITS FORM?

Psychological patterning, also referred to as a “habit loop” can be recognized as a process of the brain’s interpretation of information. First there is a cue or “trigger” that will occur, prompting your brain to go into automatic mode “craving’, thus allowing the behaviour to unfold, also known as the ‘response’ and ‘reward’ stimulus (1). In the brain, whenever a habit is reinforced, you will experience the reward centre, which causes a dopamine release in the brain (2). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which has the integral role of a pleasure response in the brain.

Take for example, the habitual use of smart phones, and the use of apps such as Instagram or messenger. The habit of needing to check your phone could be one you do frequently throughout the day, completely unaware of your frequency, you may be in fact reinforcing this habit. Every time you check the phone for a message, you are reinforcing the ‘reward’ stimulus, therefore experiencing a surge of dopamine (2).

Not that checking your phone is necessarily a bad thing, it could potentially be a reinforced habit that poses a hinderance in your productively levels during the workday or also distract you from being engaged and present in your daily interactions.

HABITS - HOW TO INFLUENCE THEM?

Like it or not habits influence every action in our daily life. What you repeatedly do shapes who you are, and who you are becoming. The cool thing about this is that you do in fact have influence, and the power to make change.

To take control of habits and steer the direction of them. Habits can be so deeply ingrained in our ‘subconscious mind’ that we aren’t even aware as to why we have certain habits and where they originated from (2).

Awareness is key.

When you become aware of your habits, you can then make a conscious effort to change them. Awareness is embodied cognition and the ability to consciously shape your actions.

GOAL SETTING AND HABITS

Take a moment to write down some of the habits in your daily life.

Now ask yourself… which habits are helping you and which ones are hindering you from being the best version of yourself?

GOAL SETTING

• What habits in your day are important to you? Why?

• What small steps can you take today? Write it down.

Small steps can lead to massive change in your life (2). Start with small goals, for example, setting a timer when focusing on a work or school assignment, to maintain focus and productivity. Another example, is setting a goal to read for five minutes every day. Seek and cultivate the habits that move you closer towards who you wish to be. Whatever you repeat over and over again is what the brain decides is important. Small, consistent actions will set you on the right track to shifting your habits.

References:


(1) James Clear (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

(2) Marco Badwal (2018). TEDxFS. The Science of Habits. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSZyzhi8C9o

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