How to Form a Good Habit

Here’s how not to put yourself on an exercise regimen: by making a firm resolution, gritting your teeth each day through a 45 minute workout, then grimly enduring a salad.

 

What's the Big Idea? 


I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “good habits,” I involuntarily wince. Most of us first learn about the importance of good habits (their magical power to keep us out of jail, the poorhouse, etc) from our parents. What’s often left out is the instructional piece. We learn that good habits are good, but not necessarily how to develop them.  

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, acclaimed journalist Charles Duhigg investigates the neuroscience of habit and explains how habit loops are formed in the brain. Because these loops – comprised of cue (“hmm, it’s 3 pm...cookie time!”), routine (Go to cabinet. Eat cookie.), and reward (Yummy cookie dopamine rush, fun break room chat with colleagues dopamine rush . . .) – become neurologically hardwired over time, they’re easier to rewire, slotting in other elements, than to drop entirely.  

But let’s say I’ve managed to kick my 3pm cookie habit, and I’m ready to take things to the next level by initiating a rigorous daily exercise regimen. Want to know how not to go about it? By making a resolution, then gritting your teeth each day through a 45 minute workout, then grimly enduring a salad. Yet this is how many people approach forming a new, good habit, and why most of them fail.  

[VIDEO] Charles Duhigg on how to form a good habit

For the habit to stick, the reward part of cue – routine – reward, says Duhigg, can’t come six weeks later when you step on a scale. It has to be immediate. Instead of a salad, Duhigg suggests rewarding yourself with a small piece of chocolate after a workout (if you like chocolate. If not, then a beer perhaps.) This should be sufficient to make exercise something your brain looks forward to, rather than something it dreads and will invent any possible excuse to avoid. 

It’s a little embarrassing to realize that our sophisticated brain is so easily fooled. The exercise doesn’t cause the chocolate bar to appear, but the association is formed nonetheless. Give it a try. The next time you hear the word gym you might just start salivating.

 

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Change.org
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The tongue-in-cheek petition, whose stated aim is to reduce the national debt, has been signed more than 8,600 times as of Tuesday.
  • Selling Montana, the fourth largest state in the country, would constitute the largest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The national debt is often a source of concern for individuals, but the chances of the U.S. defaulting on its debts are relatively low — in part because the bulk of the national debt is owned by the American public.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer's and dementia

The part of your brain responsible for ASMR catalogs music, and appears to be a stronghold against Alzheimer's and dementia.

The parts of the brain highlighted in red and yellow are thought to control your sense of attention and memory. (image c/o Brain Network Lab)
popular

Some music inspires you to move your feet, some inspires you to get out there and change the world. In any case, and to move hurriedly on to the point of this article, it's fair to say that music moves people in special ways. 

Keep reading Show less

What makes someone gay? Science is trying to get it straight.

Evolutionarily speaking, being gay is still something of an enigma

Videos
  • Heterosexual people have been less interesting to scientists than gay people, in terms of where they come from, because, evolutionarily speaking, being gay doesn't lead to a higher "higher reproductive fitness" — meaning, it doesn't lead to more babies.
  • Across cultures, gay boys tend to be more interested in spending time with their mothers.
  • We still don't really know why gay people are attracted to each other.