Habit Formation BASICS


Understanding the HABIT habit
How your BRAIN wants you to do it

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Habits, Decisions, Attention Series

Your Brain is Habit-Building Friendly

© Creative Commons on Wikipedia from Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator

Habits are patterns – and the human brain has evolved to be a pattern-recognition machine.

As we learned in an earlier post in the Habit Series, Brain-based Habit Formation, a part of our brain called the basal ganglia keeps track of those links that are built through repetition.

It’s important to know and remember that pathways remain available for reactivation as long as the basal ganglia are intact.

That can be BOTH good news and bad.

  • It’s good news if we drop out the activities that lead to the development of a behavior we want in our lives and decide we want to try again.
  • It’s bad news when we stop paying attention to building our new habit and backslide into the non-productive ones before we know it.

In an MIT report of a 2005 study, Dana Alliance member Ann Graybiel wrote encouragingly,

“We knew that neurons can change their firing patterns when habits are learned, but it is startling to find that these patterns reverse when the habit is lost, only to recur again as soon as something kicks off the habit again.”

To underscore what we covered in Part-1 of the entire Habit Series,
Habits, Decisions and Attention . . .

In a 2011 Associated Press article, Dr. Nora Volkow explained that most individuals assign more value to an immediate reward than a long-term goal, based on what science reports about the preferences and behaviors of study participants.

Those study subjects probably represent most human beings fairly closely.

——————–
Dr. Volkow is a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives [Dana Foundation] member,
and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]

She goes on to say that the pleasure our brain gets from repeatedly reinforcing the immediate reward is transformed over time into a habit through the processes modulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine (which long-time readers may remember from Brain-based Habit Formation: the Dopamine Pleasure/Reward System).

Volkow explains that the dopamine-rich part of the brain named the striatum (the major input station of the basal ganglia system), “memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward. Eventually, those environmental cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic.”

Hold that thought!

Especially for ADD/EFD readers

Many of you already know that one of the reasons why stimulant medication is effective is that it increases the bioavailability of dopamine, the amount available for your brain to use.

Impaired dopamine metabolism in many of the citizens of Alphabet City almost approaches reward-deficiency syndrome [RDS]which is the main reason why consistent and immediate positive feedback is frequently required to reward our ongoing efforts and keep us on task.

Related Post: Virtue is NOT its own Reward

Volkow’s research is great news for us, however – it means that we can learn to manipulate our own dopamine production, even without medication!

Releasing more dopamine through the brain’s automatic response to performing positive habitual activities allows our brains to feel increasingly more pleasure.

That serves as wind beneath our wings as we develop even MORE new habits – as long as we keep it up. The additional dopamine will help with intentional focus overall, too!

No need for the rest of you reading to feel left out, however.

Creating habits that get us where we want to go eventually becomes its own reinforcement no matter how our brains were originally wired — as long as we don’t continually reactivate our bad habits.

Like attracts like

As explained in Habits, Decisions & Attention, Keystone Habits are habitual behaviors that have what is sometimes termed “a multiplier effect,” serving as a CUE for additional habits in harmony with the original set of actions.

By taking advantage of the multiplier effect of Keystone Habits, attracting the formation of positive changes congruent with the original habits, less productive habits will be naturally “pushed aside” by the new pathways created by the new habits — unless we continue to reactivate the old pathways.

That’s the reason why I gave you the final assignment in the previous habits post: “identify what you want to create instead.”  That will be step-one in determining which habits will be congruent with your keystone habits.

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