Did you know that about 45 percent of your daily routines are entirely a matter of habit? That’s the result of studies by Wendy Wood, Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California. Brushing your teeth, your way to work or school, checking your notifications on your smartphone at the bus station – you repeat these activities day by day without thinking about them.
But why are habits so important and how your brain develops them? First, one of the main reasons for habits is that they relieve your brain. By using habits your brain uses less energy. If you ever had a great idea under the shower or while you had a walk, you know what we are talking about. In such situations your brain has more energy for other and more important thoughts.
On average, it needs up to two months before your brain create a new habit – provided that you perform the activity daily and the context doesn’t change. If your coffee machine has a new place in your kitchen, your brain probably needs some days (or weeks) to tell you automatically that you don’t have to go to the old location but to the new one.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to break out of your daily habits to train your brain and learn something different.
Let’s get a bit deeper in our brain and have a look how it can create habits and how a habit works in detail.
- Try out new behaviour: The basis for this is the frontal lobe (the most highly developed part of the brain). For example it is responsible for processing our environment and our inner needs – in interaction with our reward system. So, habits are formed when we try out new things and this experience is rewarding for us.
- Form a habit: When we repeat a rewarding behaviour the result is a so-called ‘feedback loop’. This loop leads to a habit being formed: Together with the sensory and motor parts of the cortex which control the sequence of our behaviour the reward system generates a ‘chunk of behaviour’. This means, our whole new sequence of behaviour is brought together as a single unit and “uncoiled”, as soon as the trigger is available.
- Anchor it deep in the brain: Once a sequence of behaviour is stored as a “chunk”, our infralimbic cortex (the lower frontal lobe) controls the deeper anchoring of the habit in your brain. This is the reason why habits, which are stored in this way, can be reactivated at any time and sometimes it takes a long time to eliminate or overwrite them. For example, for drug addicts or people who want to change their eating disorders, it is often very hard to change their existing habits.
If you want to read more about this interesting subject, we can recommend the book ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change’ by Charles Duhigg.
Now you know, how your brain build your daily habits and how they work. In our next article we will have a look at the tricks how the industry tries to ‘break up’ and change your habits to buy other or new products.