Habits Are Neural Connections
Habits never really disappear. They’re encoded into the brain’s structures—a huge advantage because we don’t have to relearn things we haven’t done in a while, such as riding a bike, speaking a foreign language or driving to work.
But your brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits. Even after you’ve conquered a bad habit, it’s always lurking in the back of your mind. One cigarette can reignite a smoking habit after years of abstinence.
This is why it’s so hard to create new routines. Unless you deliberately fight an old habit by substituting a new thought or routine, the pattern will unfold automatically. When you learn how the habit loop works, you’ll find it easier to take control of your behaviors.
The good news is that habits aren’t destiny. They can be ignored, changed or replaced. When we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower old drives and behaviors (thereby taking control of the habit loop), we can force our bad habits into the background.
Cue => Routine => Reward
A cue triggers both a routine and a reward (i.e., a rush of endorphins or sense of accomplishment from engaging in a positive habit).
If, for example, you’re tired or bored, you may habitually eat a snack. If you want to avoid the calories and improve your overall health, you can choose to exercise instead. Both solutions relieve boredom and chemically reward the brain, but one is the smarter option.
To change a habit, identify the underlying craving or trigger; then, reward the brain with a more healthful behavior.