Friday, March 2, 2012

Why Old Habits Die Hard

This is about the time in Lent when I first fall off the bandwagon in some way (case in point, I moved the markers in my Breviary from Tuesday this morning). Lent can be a great time to start forming new habits, but sticking with them long enough to make them old habits is always a trick. Which is why I found this NYT article on the science of habit forming intriguing.
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. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. ...

Habits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it’s also true that once the loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.

The article is framed by information about how retailers use this science in marketing (interesting in its own right). I'll be looking for the loop pattern in my own habits, though, and hopefully it will be a bit of help as I work to form some and break others.

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