The Underlying Factors of Habit Formation


It has been said many times that human beings are creatures of habits. It is simply human nature to develop a routine that works and continuing with it indefinitely. Habits are actions or behaviors that we do over and over again, often without consciously thinking about it. Very often, the habits that we have formed over months or years no longer serve us as well as they might have done in the path. Habit change has been identified as a key ingredient in changing one’s life and level of success.

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How Habits Form

Habits form over time through repetition. According to neuroscience, repeating an action or behavior causes it to become hardwired in the brain. By the time this behavior becomes a habit, it is an automatic action, which actually saves the brain from using much time and energy to process it.

The brain’s ability to rewire or reprogram itself is known as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. It is when the brain prunes, deletes, and modifies neural pathways based on changes in the environment, in behavior, and a number of other stimuli. Because of neuroplasticity, the more you do a certain action or display a particular behavior, the more the corresponding neural pathway is strengthened in the brain.

Everyone has been exposed to different environments, influences, and authorities both during childhood and adulthood. These have had some kind of influences on how we behave and what are habits are.

How Habits Change

Habits can be good or bad. Waking up early, exercising regularly, eating healthy, reading, and getting enough rest at night are just some examples of good habits that many people practice daily or at least regularly. Very often these activities are second nature and do not take much coercing to be done.

On the other hand, some habits that have formed over time can be destructive or simply unhelpful for a new direction that you might wish to go in. It is possible to build new habits that are beneficial.

The process of changing one’s habits follows a similar pattern to the way habits form in the earlier years. Forming new habits is, however, easier as a child than as an adult. The initial stages of this process require conscious effort and intentionality to overcome existing habits with new behaviors and actions. This must be done repeatedly to allow the rewiring process to have an effect.

Breaking Bad Habits and Lasting Behavior Change

The secrets to behavior change have been explored through the ages both from a scientific and philosophical point of view. What is evident is that it can be complex at times depending on a number of variables. There are different combinations of elements that have been found to encourage better results when it comes to changing habits and lasting behavior change. These include motivation, commitment, patience, awareness, support, buddying up, and rewards.

Understanding the reward system and being aware of the psychology behind habits can help in the process of forming new habits. The habit loop for habit formation discovered by MIT researchers identifies three stages in how a habit is performed. Firstly, there is a cue that then triggers a response, which is the actual habit, and finally, there is the reward, which can be something tangible or a particular feeling.

There is a golden rule of habit change, according to Pulitzer-prize winner and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life, Charles Duhigg. This entails identifying a new response or routine to a particular cue to produce the same reward. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, also suggests breaking bad habits by hiding or eliminating cues that trigger certain habits. He also suggests making it more difficult to perform the habitual response and making the reward less satisfying.

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