The Simple Science Behind Habit Formation
Although everyone typically talks and points to Pavlov’s experiment with Dogs to understand Habit Formation, there is much more that needs to be known.
What happens in your brain that leads to a conditioned response?
Whether intentionally created or subconsciously formed?
Let’s dive a little deeper into the specific science behind Habit Formation.
Creating a habit is key to making desired changes and living a healthier lifestyle.
In the last 20 years or so, there’s been a revolution in how researchers understand the brain. They now know that your mind is infinitely malleable, not just to a small degree.
It means that when you create a habit, you are, in fact, wiring (or rewiring) your brain to create a pattern. Your brain’s neuroplasticity allows you to do this regularly — even more so as you practice/perform more consistently with each new behavior brains become like rubber band balls that can stretch positive behavioral changes without breaking.
We can create habits to help us succeed in the areas of our lives that interest us most. By regularly committing and practicing new behaviors, we can set ourselves up for success.
When we create a habit, we are, in fact, wiring (or rewiring) our brain to create a pattern. Our brain’s neuroplasticity allows us to do this regularly when we begin a new activity, the parts of our brain that control our physical response change and become more robust due to repetition.
This is why breaking habits can be so difficult — we have built-in boundaries preventing us from doing whatever we’ve been doing.
Creating new habits becomes easier when we write them down, so they are visually present. It’s called anchoring, and it helps our brain be more effective at rewiring itself.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire or reorganize itself with new experiences to create a new pattern. It means we can change how we think, feel, or behave by doing things repeatedly.
Our brains are constantly changing.
Dopamine released by our sensory nervous system causes our brain to wire itself to make key actions more effortless and pleasurable.
The dopamine release can result from exercise, a social experience, or having good feelings about something you’re doing, which means we can experience growth in areas of our lives. We’re constantly trying new things, searching for new experiences, and learning different ways of finding happiness. Our sensory nervous system continually monitors actions to take that will deliver a reward.
In the case of our brains, this reward happens by a hit of dopamine.
When our brain recognizes an action that provides this release of dopamine, it will wire itself to make that action easier to be able to receive that hit again.
The more we do the same activity, our brains can identify those actions and associate them with rewards.
Over time, this creates habits in our day-to-day lives. They can also become less efficient if we don’t push ourselves to try new things and keep our brains guessing.
The basal ganglia are dedicated to seeking pleasure and are the part of our brain that is out of our conscious control. It is the part of the brain that wires us to seek out pleasure without needing to bother the rest of our conscious mind.
The dopamine and glutamate systems in your brain act as the “key” to the behavior that makes us seek and get pleasure. It can occur when we strongly react to something or are given rewards in the form of food or money.
In that sense, you have a self-regulating mechanism to ensure you don’t get too stressed or depressed. You can stop what you’re doing when it’s going well and then move on to try something else when it doesn’t go so well. It is some sort of an alarm system in your brain warning you when things are getting out of hand.
Perhaps that’s why Habits are tough to identify and even tougher to rewrite.
You may have felt stuck in a “habit loop,” where your craving makes it harder to lose weight, and you focus on food as the only solution.
It can lead to a yo-yo dieting cycle, where you gain as much weight each time you rebound from another loss. Trust that there are ways out of the loop, including through therapy and meditation.
Reward centers are central to our survival as humans. It’s time to end those addictive behaviors used as a crutch in our day-to-day lives.
Habit formation is the process of creating a habit.
A habit is a repetitive action or routine, like brushing your teeth. Once you establish a pattern, it becomes automatic, and you don’t even need to think about it anymore. The reward centers of the brain are wired to collect rewards. When we take action on a project and produce results, we expect that reward by processing that information through our senses, relaying it from one part of our body–like our eyes–to another–like our hand touching the object. An emotional response reinforces this positive perception when we take action toward a goal.
There are three levels of reward: IMMEDIATE (rewarded immediately), INTERMEDIATE (alerted), and DELAYED (based on future events)
Habits are a way of life; they can serve us well and cause us to fall flat on our faces. Identifying your habits is the first step to deciding whether or not you want to rewire them.
Habits are our most potent of skills. Our environment and life experiences spur them on, so it’s essential to recognize the ones that serve us well and identify those that don’t. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to rewire the ones you no longer want or need.
Identifying and changing your habits is easier than you think; A good habit is one you are proud of. A bad habit is one that you would hate to lose. Identifying your habits is the first step to deciding whether or not you want to rewire them!
It’s always good to have a community of like-minded people to support you in your new habit-forming journey. But having company of yourself will help you await an external motivation for change in your behavior.
Dr Shuchitha is an Ayurveda Physician, Researcher and Yoga Practitioner with a Master’s in Pharmacology and PG Diploma in Clinical research. She has a modern mindset with a desi tadka. She is a passionate dancer, singer and an impromptu writer. She calls herself the scribbler of poems. She is a vintage soul who enjoys music, art and nature, loves capturing it’s vibrancy.