How habits are formed and why is it more and more difficult to retrain as we get older? Is it quick and easy to develop healthy habits?
A young family is going on vacation to the sea. The couple decided that they were going to start jogging in the morning. The morning sea breeze, the sound of the surf, the beautiful views – what could be better for a great start? And then they come home and continue their morning workouts. They bought cool running shoes, sports uniforms. They flew to the sea, even went to bed early. They woke up in the morning with a cloudy sky and drizzle, but they went for a workout anyway. They walked briskly to the shore under a light drizzle, started jogging and were exhausted in half a kilometer. The next morning the spouses went out without desire and ran the same distance as the day before. And on the third day, they didn’t even remember to go for a workout and bet at 22Bet in the evening, forgetting that they should wake up at 5 am the next day. Why didn’t their endeavor become a habit?
Let’s start with a simple axiom: for the brain, all habits are the same; there are no bad or good habits for it. So, it doesn’t accept only the habits that are useful or desirable to us.
A habit is a way for the brain to save energy so that it is not “overworked” to find new solutions. That is, it’s a standard algorithm of action that is automatically triggered in typical situations. This is how a person forms different habits.
The key recipe for success for forming a new habit is reward, satisfaction with the result of the action performed. It may be unconscious satisfaction, but it can still be fixed.
A habit is formed faster if there is:
- A bright trigger – a cue, a trigger (getting up in the morning, an unpleasant sensation in the mouth).
- An action or ability to do something (brushing your teeth).
- Immediate reward (felt fresh in the mouth, smiled to yourself in the mirror and created a positive mood for the day).
To find a trigger, you have to use content. There has to be a thing or setting that reminds you to perform a certain action. For example, in the case of brushing your teeth, it’s the bathroom in the morning.
Next, to make it work, choose an action you can do and understand what you want from implementing the habit. You can test motivation by simply asking, “Is this really what I want?” There’s a “Five Whys” technique to check: consistently ask yourself “why” several times to choose an answer that works for you. The action is suitable for implementing the habit, if you understand that it’s effective for the realization of the goal, you want and can perform it.
For easy habit formation, it is important that the action be truly doable. We talked about spouses who decide to start running. If the action is difficult at first, the likelihood of implementing the habit is reduced, because our brain will associate this algorithm with the need to expend a lot of energy. So, for example, it isn’t a good idea to start the exercise process with over-exertion: this can lead to rejection.
At the end of the process, it’s critical to praise yourself for your success and realize the satisfaction of the result. The pleasant feeling of praise causes the brain to recognize and encode the sequence of actions that have been performed.
Thus, the desired habit is formed faster in the synergy of high motivation and ease of performance. The simpler the action, the more often a person begins to perform it. And pleasure from the result obtained will allow the success to be consolidated. That said, of course, in the case of super-high motivation (for example, to save a loved one), we are capable of performing the most difficult tasks. But this is a one-time, extraordinary story.
On average, it takes about two months to form a habit, but sometimes two to three weeks is enough. However, some habits can form much faster, especially unhealthy ones. For example, literally in a few times or days, the habit of “snacking” on stress with sweets becomes solidified because the reward – pleasure and satiation – comes quickly. Whereas the harmful effect of it doesn’t come immediately, and we cannot assess the harmfulness of the new action.