Your FREE Guide: NeuroHack: Rewire Your Habits, Transform Your Brain
Hey there! I’m Dr. Krissy, a Medical Neuroscientist and Professor. My passion is decoding the latest discoveries in brain science into simple terms to help you live your best, healthiest life. I’m super excited to share this free Neuroscience Guide for Changing Habits with you! Understanding how your brain works is the secret to shaking off old habits and making positive changes in your life. So shall we dive into the nitty-gritty of Habits?
Habits get wired into your brain through doing things over and over, creating these strong neural connections. Remember no behaviour happens without a corresponding change in the brain. Therefore to break a habit, we have to Crack the Habit Loop which means we need to figure out the CUE, ROUTINE, and REWARD.
So what does that mean? Cracking the Habit Loop means you need to (1) spot those triggers (cues) that kickstart your habits, (2) identify the behaviours (routine) that follow, and (3) figure out the rewards that keep them going. It’s like a loop! Charles Duhigg coined this term in his book “The Power of Habit.”
Untangling this loop is STEP ONE on the road to change.
Now, the awesome part!
Your brain possesses the remarkable ability to reorganize itself through a process called neuroplasticity. With a bit of effort, you can rewire those problematic brain connections. Neuroplasticity is what helps you to tweak your habits. Let me break it down for you in practical steps so you can see how this works!
STEP 1: Identify the Habit
Grab a piece of paper and clearly define the habit you want to change. Be specific about the behaviour you want to address. For example: Mindless snacking on chips in the late afternoon when stressed.
STEP 2: Understand the Habit Loop
- Identify the cue or trigger that initiates the habit and write it down under “cue”. This could be a specific time, place, emotional state, or preceding event. In our example, the cue is stress in the late afternoon.
- Pinpoint the routine or behaviour that is the habit and write that down under “routine”. This is the action you want to change. In our example, the behaviour is eating chips mindlessly.
- Identify the reward you get from the habit and write that down under “reward”. What satisfaction or pleasure does the habit provide? In our example, the reward is temporary relief from stress and a pleasurable taste.
STEP 3: Try out New Routines
Test out NEW routines that can replace your old routine while giving you the same reward. The new routine should be a healthier or more positive behaviour. For example: Deep breathing, a short walk, or a brief stretching routine.
STEP 4: Establish a Connection between the old Cue and the New Routine
Whenever you encounter the old cue, deliberately engage in the NEW routine. Over time, the repeated pairing of the “old cue with the NEW routine” will establish a fresh automatic response to the cue, particularly if it elicits the same or a similar old reward. This is neuroplasticity in action! For instance, connect the cue (stress) with the new routine (deep breathing). When you feel stressed in the late afternoon, intentionally pause for a session of deep breathing. Ideally, this should result in the same or a similar reward of temporary stress relief.
More Tips to Support your Success
Hey, nothing is perfect, right? So, be okay with gradually bringing in that new routine. Make small tweaks as you go along, and trust me, it’ll make the whole transition way easier and more doable. In our example, that can look like gradually integrate deep breathing into your routine. Start with a few minutes each day and gradually increase the duration as it becomes more comfortable.
For sustainability tracking your progress is very important! Get yourself a journal or use a habit-tracking app. Jot down your wins and the challenges you face. It’s like your own accountability buddy. In our example, this would look like jotting down those moments when you pick deep breathing over an unhealthy snack. Keep tabs on your stress levels too – see how well the new routine is helping you to manage your stress.
And here’s the fun part – give yourself a pat on the back when you nail that new habit loop. Rewarding yourself for small victories along the way helps solidify the new habit. This is called positive reinforcement and is part of the learning technique called Instrumental (or Operant) Conditioning observed by Psychologist E.L. Thorndike. This science shows that rewarding yourself after doing something awesome makes it more likely you’ll keep doing it. Plus, celebrating those small wins set off a little dopamine party in your brain, pushing you to keep crushing your goals.
But, life happens. So, stay flexible. If the new routine isn’t working for you, tweak it. Maybe test out other routines that align with your goals until you find what works. Tell your family and friends about your goal. They can be your cheerleaders. The reality is that changing habits takes time, so relax and stay with it, even if you hit a bump. If you slip up and revert to your old ways, no biggie. Take it as a chance to learn and jump back into the new routine. Regularly look back on your journey, figure out what works for you, and learn from the challenges. Use that wisdom to tweak your game plan and keep going.
Remember, THE KEY to successfully changing a habit lies in understanding the HABIT LOOP, being intentional about replacement behaviours, and staying committed to the process.
Now that you are armed with the insights of a neuroscientist, you have the tools to reshape your habits and, consequently, your life. Embrace the fascinating journey of rewiring your brain and unlocking the full potential of your mind.
Your personal Brain Coach,