“What is a habit, Ella?! And how is it different from normal everyday behaviour!?”
Fantastic question! Let me be as clear as I possibly can: a habit is an unconscious stimulus-response set of behaviours. All that means is, a habit is an “if this, then that” procedure.
The reason I say procedure is because habits involve going from one component of the habit formula to the next. It is not just 1 simple action. (i.e. if I do this action, I will get that immediate reward.
Habits are Procedural
Let’s take a look at the habit formula again: H(f) = (cue + routine + reward)repetition
You can verbalize it like this: if cue, then routine. If routine, then reward. So let’s talk about why each of those elements are important.
The cue is important because it is a reminder for you to take an action. Without a cue, you rely only on memory which is incredibly difficult and potentially overwhelming.
The routine is important in the obvious sense that it actually facilitates change and it is the stimulus to the eventual response (which is the reward).
Without a routine, there is no clear path forward. You might spend more time than necessary going down different paths and by doing that, you won’t be able to do the most important thing which is expect a reward immediately post-routine.
Rewarding feedback is contingent upon habit. Meaning, without the “then that” part of a procedure, there is little activation in the basal ganglia (the part of the brain where habits are formed and stored) and an unconscious habit does not actually form. The cool part is that no matter what your reward is, the reward must always initiate a dopaminergic effect in the basal ganglia. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure. A 2011 study by Foerde and Shohamy showed that there is only activation in the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia when a a reward is preceded by an action.
Thus, emerging data demonstrate that the midbrain dopamine system supports feedback-dependent learning processes essential for predicting both certain and uncertain outcomes. Collectively, these models and data suggest a more nuanced view of the basal ganglia than the one indicated by the multiple memory systems framework. Indeed, the physiological data suggest that rather than supporting implicit learning, the basal ganglia are critical for supporting learning that is driven by feedback and is motivated by rewards. It should also be noted that procedures become habits during short-interval learning.Foerde and Shohamy (2011)
It is also crucial for the reward to be immediate; this was shown in studies demonstrating that a delay in the reward caused a lower dopaminergic effect in the basal ganglia, therefore not being strong enough to motivate someone to repeat that procedure. From these studies one can interpret that habits formed in the basal ganglia are reward-related learning.
So why is this information important?
Because you are going to use it to create new habits in your life. I love habits because they simplify behaviour by using a formula, and the beauty of the formula is it is still personalized to you! So the next time you want to start building a good habit into your life, break it down into tiny steps, and then for each individual step, create a cue and a reward.
If you need help doing this, that is exactly the type of thing I help you with when we work one-on-one, so if you want to book a free consultation you can follow this link. If you learned something new today don’t forget to share this post with one friend. As always I hope you have a great day and don’t forget to make this the year of you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional health advice.