“Habit emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”
The Habit Loop: The process with our brain is a three-step loop. First, there is a CUE, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the ROUTINE, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a REWARD, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. See the graph below:
Over time, this Loop becomes more and more automatic. The CUE and REWARD become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, a habit is born. So, when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.
“Habits never really disappear. They are encoded into the structures of our brain,” explains Duhigg. If we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviours – if we take control of the Habit Loop – we can force those bad tendencies into the background. And once someone creates a new pattern, studies have demonstrated, going for a jog or ignoring the doughnuts becomes as automatic as any other habit. “Habits,” writes Duhigg, “as much as memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits, but once they are lodged in our brains, it influences how we act… often without our realization.”
For example McDonald and kids. When the kids are starving and parents are driving home after a long day it makes sense to stop by at McDonald's – it’s inexpensive and tastes good. One meal of processed food can’t be that bad, right? (So we reason). But habit emerges without our permission. Studies indicate that families usually don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. But what happens is that a once a month pattern slowly becomes once in a week, and then twice a week.
As the cues and rewards create a habit, the kids are habitually consuming an unhealthy amount of chicken burgers and French fries. There are a number of cues and rewards that most customers never knew were influencing their behaviour – every McDonalds looks the same, the employees say the same things, and so everything is a consistent cue to trigger (unhealthy) eating routines. Duhigg observes, “The fries are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern.” Every habit starts from the Habit Loop.
You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)