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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September is the BEST time for what activity?


Forming or Changing a HABIT
and setting new goals!
Don’t wait for New Years Resolutions

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

New year, new goals

Somebody needs to write a new anthem: The kids are back in school!!  (My brain wants to sing it to the tune of The Boys are Back in Town)

Except for our under-appreciated, overworked teachers, most parents begin yearning for September long before July is in their rear view mirrors.

As much as they look forward to more family time during the school year, most have forgotten how having the youngsters at home all day tends to make a shambles of their schedules.

But the teachers are aware of something that the rest of us tend to overlook . . .

September really begins the New Year

I don’t care how old you are, unless you were home schooled or spent your younger years in full-time boarding school, most of us feel a fresh gust of wind beneath our wings at the start of every school year.  That tends to be the case even for those of us who don’t have kids at home anymore – or never had kids at home (old habits die hard).

  • Few of us complain about the early appearance of new notebooks and school supplies in the stores nearly as much as we kvetch about shelves of early Jack-o-Lanterns, Pilgrims, Turkeys and Christmas sparklies.
  • Many of us are as pleased by wandering the aisles to replenish our supplies of journals and pens as the kiddies who are excited to see the latest in backpacks.
  • And many folks fill the first few pages of those brand new journals with brand new goals for the brand new “school year” – an old habit reactivated.

Those folks and the teachers are aware of something
that the rest of us would do well to keep in mind . . .

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Moving Past PTSD triggers


Do we ever really heal from trauma?
What does “healing” really mean?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
adding to the Habits, Memory, EF, and PTSD Series

Responding to a comment

Right after I published the second part of one of my PTSD Awareness articles, author and blogger Chuck Jackson posted a comment that asked a question I couldn’t  answer at length in the comment format.

Do you ever recover fully from PTSD?

Chuck went on to add some context to his question:

Looking at your list of symptoms (mental and physical), if I was honest with myself, I would still mark yes to over fifty percent.

The majority of the time, I live a happy and enjoyable life. It is only during periods of anxiety or prolonged depression, do these symptoms raise their dirty head.

They are not debilitating, just very annoying.

So, for the most part, I suppose we could say that Chuck is essentially “healed.”

He has moved well beyond some pretty nasty stuff in his childhood (his healing journey shared in his stunning book about child abuse, “What Did I Do?).”

But I believe he is asking another, broader question with a much broader application:

Why am I not beyond all of my symptoms all of the time?

Real questions have real answers, so lets take a look at a couple of questions I’m sure we have all entertained at some point in our lives:

I’ll begin with a segment of my comment in answer to his question.

Forgetting is part of the process of memory too

“Forgetting” is still quite the mystery to scientists, even as they learn more about “remembering” – and that is really at the heart of Chuck’s question.

Most of us would prefer to have a way of “erasing” disturbing tracks laid down as the result of earlier experiences so that we can focus on and recall more positive/supportive reactions, thoughts and behaviors instead of disturbing reactions to PTSD triggers.

From an article I posted 3 years ago now,
Brain-Based Habit Formation:
~~~~~~

Any golf pro will tell you that eradicating their clients’ bad habits is the toughest challenge they face.

It’s much easier and quicker to coach someone to play par golf if they’ve never picked up a club than if they’ve been a bogey golfer for years.

Only the best golf pros understand why that is so and what to do to overcome it more quickly, however!

Brain-Based Habit Formation also explains that old pathways never actually get “deleted” — so unless the bogey golfer practices the new habits EVERY SINGLE TIME he picks up a club, he is likely to slip back into his old habits.

And every single time he “rehearses the old,” he deepens the “brain-grooves” of the habit he wants to eradicate.  In the same manner:

If you focus on your triggers and allow them to control you,
you are likely to find yourself back-sliding quickly.

What is needed is to link a new action to an old cue – to pull yourself gently but intentionally away from the old fears and other manifestations (symptoms) the moment you realize that you are “rehearsing the pain.”

So, in that sense only, I will tell you that,
at present, “PTSD” never really goes away.

NOW, let’s unpack that a bit – because that does NOT mean that you are going to have to suffer for the rest of your life. After all, as I said to Chuck, who cares whether “PTSD” goes away or not if it never troubles you!

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