The Power of Habit

February 21, 2012

Brit Trogen

"Researchers have figured out how to stop people from habitually overeating and biting their nails. They can explain why some of us automatically go for a jog every morning and are more productive at work, while others oversleep and procrastinate. There is a calculus, it turns out, for mastering our subconscious urges." - Charles Duhigg


Most of us may not realize the power that our habits have over our everyday lives. It's habit. Something that occurs without awareness, something that we don't even think about it... 



As it turns out, there may be more truth to this than we realize. We don't think during habits, or at least, not with the same portions of our brain that we use for decision-making. As MIT researchers are discovering through studies in rats, mental activity actually decreases when we're acting out a habit, whether running through a maze after a hunk of chocolate, or flipping on the TV when we sit down on the couch.


In a fascinating new book on the influence of habit, Charles Duhigg has tied together these fascinating findings:


"The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges."


This is even more important when you consider the real level of power habits hold over our lives:


"One study from Duke University estimated that habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day, and recent discoveries have begun to change everything from the way we think about dieting to how doctors conceive treatments for anxiety, depression and addictions."


Read the fascinating first account of this phenomenon here. And prepare to never look at your life in the same way ever again.



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