The Shocking Science Behind ‘Habit Formation’ and Changing One’s Life

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit” described how scientists were looking for life-changing factors.

Starting the research, they had a picture of some significant events in mind: getting married, death in the family, the birth of the first baby, a terrible car accident, and so on. This is what we normally think of a life change, don’t we?

They discovered that behind most individual life changes were changes of daily habits. Ask Mr. Duhigg for the reference to this specific research. Or maybe you can find it in the appendix at the end of the book.

Toothpaste Story

There are more interesting stories in “The Power of Habit.” If I recall correctly, this book (or was that “Built to Sell?”) instance the story of introducing toothpaste to the marketplace.

It hadn’t been selling well till a producer add a mint flavor into it which gave users the refreshing feeling in their mouth. It was that reward element that made using toothpaste a habit, which in effect translated into an increase in sales of the product.

The Habit Loop

“The Power of Habit” explains also a mechanism of the habit loop — a neural loop forming in our brains when we create a habit. Those neural impulses are stored in basal ganglia, the brain’s area we share with other mammals, birds, and reptiles. It means that habits are common for even the most primitive life forms. They are basic for our existence.

Once coded into, the habit loop cannot be removed from your brain unless it’s physically damaged. The only thing you can do with an existing habit is to reprogram it.

Time

It aptly fits the research about habits and change. Since our habits are forever with us and they work consistently, they generate change.

Un-habitual behaviors don’t generate changes because they nullify each other. One day you eat a burger, the next day you eat a carrot and the overall effect is null. But if you have a habit of eating burgers or carrots, it’s a different story. Repeated over time, those small habits are followed by a cascade of changes.

It’s really the time factor that brings the change in. Habits have the change potential because they employ time — they repeatedly bring a specific factor to work in our lives.

I think The Slight Edge chart illustrates this dependency the best:

(The Slight Edge chart; a success part; created by author)

Design Your Life Change

BJ Fogg, head of Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, researched the behavior change for over two decades, and he concluded that:

Only 3 things will change your behavior in the long term
Option A: Have an epiphany
Option B: Change your environment
Option C: Take baby steps

“Take baby steps” is nothing else than habits. And Dr. Fogg considers them the most reliable way to change one’s behavior in the long term. He even created an awesome Tiny Habits program and helped tens of thousands of people to develop new habits.

As you can see, science agrees that habits are generators of permanent change in our life.

Originally published on Quora.

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