Habits: What Are They?

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Do you ever wonder why you do what you do? I am a product of routine and have certain habits that I don't really notice are out of the ordinary, until I take the time to really think why I am doing them.  Like how on Tuesday's, I always get coffee from Starbucks before class.  Or how when I go for a run, I always sprint the last minute no matter what.  Or how every night before I go to bed, I have to wash my face and brush my teeth.  Simple things that to others might go unnoticed, yet slowly but surely they've found a way into my daily life.

So how do habits form?  NPR.org breaks it down, stating that every habit starts with a three prong habit loop.  First, there's a cue that tells your brain to let an action happen.  Second, there is the routine which is the actual behavior.  Third, is the reward which is something that the brain likes to allow you to remember your habit loop. 

According to NPR.org, "Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts."

This is actually beneficial because you use less brain activity once a habit is formed, allowing your brain more time to think about something else. In an article from nsf.gov, MIT professor Anne Graybiel discusses habits and how they can from from repetition and emotion.  Much of her research focuses on how we create good and bad habits and the loops which connect sensory signals to habits.  This research could help us to understand what goes on when bad habits and even addiction behaviors are formed. (http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=126567)

Habits make everyone unique and allow us to have our very own little quirks.


1 Comment

Kelsey, great post, I can agree 100% to your statement about, "This is actually beneficial because you use less brain activity once a habit is formed, allowing your brain more time to think about something else." I sometimes would do things with even thinking about it for a split-second because to me it was just an automatic reactions like when I go shopping for food and I am in the soda section the first thing I usually look for and pick up is a bottle of 2 liters of ginger ale,.

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