A habit is a fixed way of thinking that leads to automatic behavior. The benefit is we don’t have to rethink again and again what to do. It just happens and can have good side effects.
But a bad habit can also hurt us or hold us back from progressing. Although, like anything, we can learn and unlearn them. But first, let’s try to understand where they come from. Habits are made by experiences creating fixed ways of thinking inside our brain. To explain this, let’s compare what happens inside your brain to what happens on a farm.
There is a farmer named Joe, his vegetable garden, the chicken shed and a mailbox. Every morning farmer Joe first walks to the vegetables, then checks on his chickens, then collects his mail and then walks back to the house. After a few days of this routine, his trace becomes more visible on his farm. After a few months, the trace becomes fixed pathways. Not only on his farm, but also inside his brain.
One night Joe has a magical dream where he discovers his love with all living creatures. The next day he sets all of his chickens free. The funny thing is though, instead of adjusting his behavior, he still walks blindly from the vegetable garden to the chicken shed. The trace on the ground, and inside Joe’s brain are now just too deep.
To leave the path of habit, we have to go down a new road. This takes time multiple repetitions of our new desired behavior and willpower to keep going.
A habit is often a response to a certain trigger, which follows a routine and usually ends with a reward. This is also called a habit loop. Joe’s trigger is the vegetables. As soon as he waters the last tomato, he starts his next routine to automatically walk to the chickens. His reward is to find eggs. And because rewards release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes our brain first happy and then hooked, we get stuck and can’t let go anymore.