Habits and How We Create Them By: Sara Bennett

What are habits? Habits are pathways through our brain that we travel so much that we can do them automatically, sounds crazy right? Well, it is… But it’s true.

What are habits?

First, What are habits? Habits are paths down your neural pathways, pathways down your special cells in your brain called neurons, that you travel very often, so often in fact, that some habits occur automatically. The line or sequence that your brain goes through when executing a habit, is first, the cue. Something or someone, that reminds your brain of that certain path. Then comes the action, the actual habit itself. Finally, is the reward. The certain thing or action that your brain likes about this sequence of events. Institute Professor Ann Graybiel says, “We’ve always thought — and I still do — that the value of a habit is you don’t have to think about it. It frees up your brain to do other things,” This shows that habits are very powerful things, and that habits don’t always have to be bad things, they could be a good thing as well, such as waking up every morning to go exercise, or eating 5 fruits and vegetables every day. So powerful that even if you break bad habit it isn’t necessarily gone. It’s just overwritten by another pathway down your neurons. One article, MIT news, ‘How Our Brain Controls Our Habits’, talks about how they trained rats in a T shaped maze to go to the left, which would be the reward of a small piece of cheese, instead of the left which would have bad-tasting, but non-harmful chemicals. The rats are cued which side to run to. After the rats got into the routine of running to the left side and receiving a prize of cheese it started to become a habit. Even when the rats weren’t cued to go to that side, they still would. The scientists began to signal for the rats to go down the right pathway where there was a prize of cheese waiting for them. But because of the fact that the habit had been so deeply integrated in their neurons, the rats continued to move down the left path. They continued to do this until the scientists started to manually take them down the right path. This not only shows that habits are powerful, and amazing things, but also that they are stronger than we think they are. The habit had totally taken control of that movement and decision. Although we are more advanced in our neural pathways than rats are, the same thing could happen to us with habits. Without consciously thinking about it, you could be repeating the same good or bad habit, causing it to embedded in your neural pathways even more than they already are.

Can we develop new habits if we do them enough?

But can we really create new habits if we continue to do them over and over again? Yes, yes we can. Because of the way our brain is setup to perceive and handle habits, we can create new habits if we do them enough. Habits can be formed by doing a sequence of events every day, every week, multiple times every day, etc. As your actions carve a path down your neural pathways it will make the action much easier to do every time. It will become more automatic until you are able to do the action or thought without consciously thinking about it. It is scientifically proven that although our brains are wired to remember sequences or patterns, it is actually quite hard to create new patterns or habits.

What are we doing when we develop new habits?

When you develop new habits, what you are actually doing, is hardwiring, or making your brain to think down one line, or train of thought. That line when repeated many times can become a good, or bad habit.

What are your habits? Are you aware of your habits? Did you know that 20% of the population are aware of their habits but don’t make any attempt to change or stop their habits? Habits are crazy and amazing things. They are very complicated; scientists even now are still trying to unlock the great secrets and mysteries of habits. Just remember the next time you catch yourself following a familiar sequence of events that with effort, you can change or even stop those good, or bad, habits.

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Credits:

Created with images by IsaacMao - "Brain" • NICHD NIH - "Mouse neurons" • NICHD NIH - "Neuron"

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