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Can Brain Science Help Us Break Bad Habits?

Companies and Habits

Companies make us habitual. Companies like Facebook, NetFlix, and Uber spend millions on R&D of better tools to minimize friction, to get people to use their services more and more and form a habit.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

Can Brain Science Help Us Break Bad Habits?

Can Brain Science Help Us Break Bad Habits?

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/28/can-brain-science-help-us-break-bad-habits

newyorker.com

7

Key Ideas

Willpower is Limited

Though companies like Nike try to ignite our willpower with their slogans, ultimately willpower cannot squash our subconscious and unconscious behavior.

Repetition of action and thought can make the required change seep into us, turning it into a machine-like, habitual behavior.

Knowledge is not Enough

Just merely knowing something is good or bad for you is not going to give you any benefit, unless the implementation is done. Conscious knowledge cannot change your behavior, one has to make necessary changes to successfully act in self-control.

If you know that you will eat junk food because your refrigerator is filled with it, remove all the junk food.

Friction

Just as removing friction aids in doing the activity more often, adding friction can aid to remove the bad habit, by making it difficult or cumbersome to do so.

Example: Cigarette smoking declined due to adding taxes, banning in public places and removing from vending machines.

Companies and Habits

Companies make us habitual. Companies like Facebook, NetFlix, and Uber spend millions on R&D of better tools to minimize friction, to get people to use their services more and more and form a habit.

Junk Food Habits

McDonald's, for example, uses brain science to create habits by:

  • Asking 'Would you like some fries with that?'
  • Keeping the restaurants' look and the food taste/color standardized to trigger habitual eating patterns.
  • The salt and sugar in the food are making the brain feel good and happy, creating a sort of addiction.

Toothpaste Tingle

Toothpaste companies heavily advertise scary messages of tooth decay (a cue) ensuring people buy their product.
The taste was designed to produce a certain tingle in the mouth, a fresh, irritant taste that provided a 'reward'.

Recognize, Acknowledge, Control

A Strategy to break away from a habitual activity is to:

  • Recognize your dependency
  • Acknowledge how the bad habit affects your life
  • Control the Cues to minimize triggers.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Focus On Keystone Habits

Keystone habits lead to the development of multiple good habits. 

Exercise is a good example of this. Once you start to change your exercise habits, it sets off a chain reaction t...

Use “Minimum Viable Effort”

Focus on baby steps. The key to new good habits is to do the minimum and be consistent.

Do not be ambitious at the beginning. That leads to failure. Consistency is what you’re shooting for, so make the hurdle as low as possible.

Make A Plan

Thinking about the details makes you more likely to follow through. 

Just writing down your plan also makes a big difference in effectively committing to your goals.

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Willpower is like a muscle

Just like going to the gym and building up strength, the more you train your willpower by accomplishing tasks on a consistent basis

Self-Discipline - a series of healthy habits

Long term change is better served by building better habits, than by forcing your willpower. 

You will choose the apple over the cake for a number of times ... and then give up. Building a habit to start the day by going to the gym will work better.

Habits = “automatic” responses...

 ...to familiar environmental cues. 

They form when you engage in a behavior repeatedly in the presence of consistent stimuli.

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Priming the Environment
Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy. This is one of the most practical and simple ways to improve your habits.
Ideas to prime your environment
  • To draw more: Put your pencils, pens, notebooks, and drawing tools on top of your desk, within easy reach.
  • To exercise more: Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of time.
  • To improve your diet: Chop up a ton of fruits and vegetables on weekends and pack them in containers, so you have easy access to healthy, ready-to-eat options during the week.
Make bad behaviors difficult

If you watch too much television, unplug it after each use. Only plug it back in if you can say out loud the name of the show you want to watch. (Which prevents you from turning on Netflix and “just finding something” to watch.) This setup creates just enough friction to prevent mindless viewing.

Set Better Goals

Be specific on how you’ll implement goals into your daily life. Examining how you’ve responded to the situation in the past and determining what you can do to avoid reverting to the old h...

Have a Better Reason For Quitting

Even if you replace a “bad” habit with a better one, sometimes the original vice will have a stronger biological “reward” than its substitute. This is where the importance of having an intrinsic motivation comes into play.

If that is the case, find as many benefits to the change as you can and try to use them as extra motivation.

Replace a Bad Habit With a Good One

The more you suppress your thoughts, the more likely you are to think about that thought or even revert back to that bad habit. Instead of trying to stop doing something,  it’s easier to do something else.

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How to trigger the flow state
  1. Flow follows focus, and taking physical or social risks drives focus into the now.
  2. Change your routine and increase novelty, unpredictability, and complexity
  3. F...
Research Findings On Flow
  • When a person is in a state of flow, all five potent neurochemicals massively amplify the immune system.
  • While on flow, stress-causing hormones are flushed out of body, and the autoimmune and nervous systems go haywire.
  • A Gallup poll found that most American workers are disengaged and spends less than 5% of their day in flow.
What Flow is

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best. It’s the moment of total absorption.

Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through the roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply.

“The secret to permanently breaking any bad habit is to love something greater than the habit.”

Bryant McGill
The Role Of Perseverance On Change

Bad habits don’t go away overnight. But, you can use strategies to give you that extra boost of self-confidence and self-control required to change.

Understand that sometimes you will fail and sometimes you’ll succeed. But no matter how long it takes to fail and get back up again, your patience and perseverance will soon pay off.

Creating An “If-Then” Plan

It gives you an automatic response to react to your cravings and makes it easier to replace a bad habit with a good one: 

  • Identify the scenario that usually triggers your bad habit.
  • Specify a different response to the trigger. Ideally, this should be a good habit that would replace and prevent you from falling into the temptation.
  • Combine steps 1 and 2 into an “if-then” format.

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Keystone Habits

They tend to have ripple effects which change your behavior in unexpected ways.

The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to set off a chain reaction that causes other...

Examples of Keystone Habits

Exercising regularly is for many people a keystone habit because when they do it, they also make healthier eating and life choices and procrastinate less.

Other keystone habits include: meditation, reading, writing and socialising. They provide a nice foundation for a healthy life in all domains

Identify Your Keystone Habits

Look for behaviors that have a ripple effect, and change your other behaviors without extra effort. 

Also, pay attention to how you see yourself when you do a particular habit: Does it change your self-image? Do you feel better when you think of yourself as a person?

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Starting vs breaking a habit

The process of stopping bad habits is fundamentally different from forming new ones.

  • Creating a habit requires encoding a new set of automatic behaviors: the brain learns cau...
Progressive extremism

The process of “progressive extremism” utilizes what we know about the psychology of identity to help stop behaviors we don’t want. It works particularly well in situations in which substituting one habit for another just won’t do.

Identity helps us make otherwise difficult choices by offloading willpower. Our choices become what we do because of who we are.

"Don’t" vs "Can’t"

By classifying specific behaviors as things you will never do again, you put certain actions into the realm of “I don’t” versus “I can’t.”

Saying “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” provides greater “psychological empowerment.”

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Habit Ladder

This is a system that is automated by you. It is called a habit ladder because, from the time you wake up to finishing your first work task of the day, you're climbing up one rung at a t...

How Habits Work

A habit - a mini-system that once you create, becomes automatic to your body, with minimal interference from the brain.

The Habit Loop is a breakdown of a habit put it into three sections:

  • Cue: A certain trigger that awakens the habit
  • Routine: The action you perform without thinking.
  • Reward: The change you experience making you want to do more of the same.
Making a Habit Ladder

Keep a trigger cue ready and stack up the routine in such a way that your tasks become a habitual routine without any friction, each trigger cue and routine stacked over the next one.

Example: Put on running shoes instead of slippers in the morning and that's your cue to go out for a walk, then when you are back and feeling sweaty, that's your cue to take a bath.

Habits Are Not Blind Routines

Conventional wisdom states that strong habits improve our productivity. Daily habits done in an autopilot mode are not the only route to peak performance.

While our habits help us stick to g...

Revisit What You Do Daily
  • Some of our daily to-dos should not require a constant daily effort and could be optimized further. Look for such habits and if the daily effort is straining you, look for other innovative solutions.

  • Time and Energy are limited resources, and as we grow, our habits may become obsolete. We could use the same time and energy to explore new and better options.

  • It is a good idea to pay attention to where we spend our time and see if there is something we do daily but have outgrown long ago.

Consistency and Boredom

Being consistent can also lead to burnout and lack of growth, and to be creative and innovative, we sometimes need a break from our daily activity. When we stop and do something new, we start to be part of a creative process, instead of simply repeating the same thing every day.

The key is to not rely on a rigid consistency but to be resilient enough to withstand any breaks. Our resilient habits are usually the old ones and have some psychological rewards while involving some external accountability. 

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