WARNING: This blog post contains graphic descriptions of french fries and could lead to a fast food run.
Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Hey I should start (insert new habit here),’ and then the thought immediately leaves your head never to be thought of again until the next time you hear about it?
We’ve all done it so don’t feel bad, you are not the only one! Our brains are actually wired against new habits so we are fighting an uphill battle. Why is that? Well, there have been some pretty remarkable advances in neuroscience to answer that question but to keep it simple, here are a few reasons.
- The brain is efficient and likes routine
Our brains are wired to make things as routine and as efficient as possible to preserve brain fuel. This means once you do an action, say cooking dinner, your brain creates a system for that and tries to make it effortless so you don’t even have to think about doing it next time. That way it can save brain fuel for something else. The brain is wired to survive on as little effort as possible as a means to keep us alive. So all in all, it’s a good thing, but when you are trying to build a new habit it can be pretty frustrating…
- We are stuck in a habit loop
Without even realizing it, we are receiving rewards for doing certain habits, even bad ones that aren’t helpful to our goals. This can lead to us getting stuck in a habit loop. Here’s how it works. First, we see a cue- the Mcdonald’s golden arches. Then, we imagine crispy, salty french fries and our mouth starts salivating- that’s the craving. Next, before you know it, we’re swerving across two lanes of traffic to get into that drive-thru lane! That’s called our response. And lastly, we are rewarded with tasty goodness. Your brain loves salt and simple carbs so it is happy with you and floods your mind with dopamine. “Good job you!” In the moment this feels wonderful, but depending on the habit, it might not be something we want to do all the time. The problem is, the next time you see those golden arches it will cue the same response and we can get stuck in a loop.
These two reasons make it very hard to establish new routines because we have these systems that are engrained in us and our brain is fighting to keep them in place. Luckily, these same systems can also be used for new, healthier habits. YAY! Finally, some good news!
Stay tuned, our next blog post will be on how to take these systems and use them to create new, helpful habits!
Until next time,