The Superficial Difference Between Habits and Learning

When we mention habits, we automatically think of routine behaviors done to achieve a certain outcome, whereas learning is thought to be more of a conscious process.

Habitual actions have a strong default and it is strikingly similar to that of learning. For example, when you encounter a familiar problem, the predominant tendency is to apply the techniques you've learned before. When solving a problem in a novel way, it takes effort... the same way on breaking out of a habitual groove.

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Problem Solving


The Neuroscience of Habits and Learning
  • When habits form, they form a strong sequence of connections with neurons that downstream synapses in which were the later ones being fired with a higher probability than the first.
  • Learning happens when associations of one long-term memory become tightly coupled with another.

Though they may be seen as broad categories that are nuanced, they overlap considerably instead of being two separate domains.

Learning = Habits

We know that learning is about knowledge, information, and skills; while habits are routines, behaviors, and actions. But the two are actually quite similar to each other.

Habit and learning have the same equation used when dealing with specific situations:

  • Habit: "When X happens, I do Y."
  • Learning: "When A is mentioned, in context of whatever is asked of A, I produce the correct answer that is B."

Both habit and learning are complicated with varying responses but often have an automated response.

Learning isn't just the process of storing information, but it is also a process where we can prepare particular actions for certain contexts. Learning is cue-driven and context-based, as much as habit-formation.

By seeing habits-as-learning, we then recognize that what we do is not only a matter of self-discipline but also of exploration and experimentation. When we begin to see learning and habits for what they are we can then use this knowledge to learn better and make better habits.

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Reading is a habit of compounding growth. When reading, you'll learn more, and you'll generate ideas and motivation for making other changes.

Reading books means you're getting more concentrated thinking on a topic. It's also harder and requires patience and attention than reading an article for example.



The basic process for building all habits is basically the same: you repeatedly condition the behavior you want, over time, until it becomes automatic.

But no habit starts out automatic; there’s a deliberate period, where you must consciously apply yourself to make a certain behavior your default.

Chunking - The Root of Habits

The process in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine is known as ‘chunking,’ and it’s at the root of how habits form.

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