Habits normally form subconsciously and can also be viewed as positive or negative, in terms how they influence your life and health. The basis of habit is that it is a repeated pattern of behavior from an individual. Habits can range from smoking cigarettes to always having that special cookie every day for lunch. Habits can also be beneficial for everyday life. For example, parallel parking, at first, is a confusing and challenging task that takes a lot of focus but after a lot of practice, it becomes a habit. Recent research demonstrates tremendous insight into how habits are formed through neuroplasticity.
The Formation of a Habit
Each habit starts with a psychological pattern. This pattern is referred to as a “habit loop,” which is broken up into a three-part process. The initial part of the process is the trigger that initiates the desire in your brain to act out the habit. This is what ignites the behavioral act of the habit. The second part of the habit process is the routine or the actual behavior itself. The third part of the process is the reward. It is the mental satisfaction that your mind remembers, in order retain the “habit loop.”
The reasons why habits are so easy to form is because they can happen on a subconscious level. You can perform a habit while talking to a friend or driving a car. You reach for that sweet sugary snack or that cigarette in your pocket while not even thinking about why you are doing it.
The Brain: Neuroplasticity
Not so many years ago scientists believed that the brain was hard-wired and fixed and did not change after childhood but recent discoveries in just the last decade have revealed that the brain changes throughout our lives and is actually malleable and adaptable like plastic. The brain has billions of interconnected pathways or roads that light up everytime you feel something, think about something or do something. Some of the roads are very well traveled, and represent our established ways of feeling, thinking and doing, and these we call our habits. Say we start thinking differently or try a new task. As we use this new way of thinking or doing or feeling more and more we then begin to carve out a new pathway or road and the old road begins to weaken and be used less and less. This is what we call Neuroplasticity in action.
In the behavioral healthcare hospital where I work all residents are under lock and key. In other words, every single door is locked so therefore I spend all day as I travel from building to building or even room to room unlocking and locking doors. There is one door in a particular building that was put in backward. Over the last 20 months, I have had very few successful first attempts to unlock that particular door. Almost every single time I attempt to unlock that particular door I turn the key to the right as I do every other lock in the entire complex. I then immediately am reminded of my failure that this door lock is backward. Now the question is why do I have such a hard time remembering that with this particular door I must turn my key the opposite way? It is because of well developed and carved out neuropathways. I have been conditioned my entire life that to unlock a door I must turn my key to the right. I have not had enough time working at a new understanding to create a new neural pathway that automatically drives my behavior to do the opposite. The beautiful thing though is that if I would spend a concentrated amount of time at that one door day after day, I may be able to rewire my brain. Of course, it would be much easier if all the locks were reversed so that I could create a new habit and my brain could literally form a new, wide neural pathway.
Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. This is the basis as to what makes personal growth and development possible at the most basic human level. Habits, in the realm of neuroplasticity, have the ability to form in as short as three to seven days. Children have the strongest neuroplasticity compared to adults which makes logical sense in terms of the learning process. In essence, neuroplasticity reaffirms the idea that your brain can change based on repeated experience.
The good news is that we all have the ability and opportunity to learn and change as we work to rewire our brain. With repeated and directed attention to a change in thinking, feeling, and doing, you will be able to rewire your brain and change a habit. Neuroplasticity plays a major part in mental practice and self-improvement. If you can think yourself into a more positive outlook, you can be a more positive person with awareness, attempting repeated thoughts, feelings, and actions which all take mental discipline.