Rewiring the Brain

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Humans are habitual creatures. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly building habits and then living daily with those same habits. In many ways, building habits is a subconscious exercise.

When we move to a new area, we have to rebuild certain habits. But very quickly, we’re going to the same gas station every week, the same grocery store, the same restaurant for brunch on Sundays.

We schedule our lives around habits. Our morning routines are made up of various habits developed over the years.

This is great – if the habits are healthy.

But what if they’re not healthy?

The First Step Is Awareness

Sometimes it can take a while – a few years, for example – before we start realizing that maybe one or two of our habits are unhealthy. So, we think, “Oh, I just need to stop doing this.” or “Oh, I just need to do something else.”

Sounds super easy, right. Wrong. When we’re talking about habits, we’re talking about actions and decisions and urges that have literally been hardwired into our brains over time.

According to the interview “Habits: How They Form and How To Break Them” from npr.org , forming habits is a three-part process: the cue (trigger), the routine, and the reward.

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.

Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them

The Concept for Breaking Habits is the Same as Making Them

A lot of people are visual learners. They remember vocab words or math formulas by studying flash cards or watching videos. Some people study for tests listening to a certain playlist, because when they think of a certain song, it’s now connected to the answers they need to remember for the test.

This is a similar concept to cues or triggers, which are the beginning of a habit. When trying to develop a new habit, connect it with an image or a song, or something that will then cue or trigger the routine.

The routine, according to the npr.org interview, is the actual action of the habit. So once you’ve cued yourself, then start the routine, or the action or habit you want to create. Then comes the reward.

The Reward

For whatever reason (maybe because it works) our brains thrive on a reward system. Sometimes it’s just the extra level of serotonin that we get when we accomplish something. Sometimes it’s an actual reward, like a dessert or a treat.

Some rewards are bigger than others, and therefore take longer to get. One of the rewards of exercise is to feel physically well and the ability to do more physical things that you didn’t before. But building up to that, if you’re out of shape, is what makes attaining the reward difficult.

You’ve Heard All This Before

Let’s be honest, you’ve probably heard all or part of this before. Maybe even from your family or a doctor. But here’s the thing: they can’t change your habits for you.

Only you can do this.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about this on a blog about writing and story. Well writing is a habit, and if you haven’t formed a habit of writing, you’re probably not doing it that much, are you?

Even more than writing, healthy habits, or developing healthy habits are far more important. Eating healthy (or trying), exercising, sleeping, not smoking or doing other potentially harmful substances.

Believe it or not, these healthy or unhealthy habits can have an effect on your writing. On the way you tell story. On your ability to tell story.

Just a Gentle Reminder

So, please take this post as a gentle reminder to examine the habits you’ve developed and their effect on your life. I’m writing to myself too.

What are some habits that you could or should change for the better? What are some habits that you may need to get rid of?

Remember, this post is a reminder. I’m still preparing – mentally and physically – to start a journey where I change some habits or make new ones. Once I know what I’m going to do, I’ll share it with you guys, and if you’d like to join with me, I would love that.

But, again, for now, this is just a gentle reminder to get you (and to get myself) thinking about the habits we need to change.

Comment below and let’s start a conversation.

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