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How Habits Work

Happy New Year to all 2020! We make resolution every year and most important is how to make as a part of our Habit. The brain’s prefrontal cortex is the home of critical thinking skills, also known as higher-order thinking. Deeper inside the brain are the more primitive structures that are responsible for automatic functions like breathing. The center of the brain conta

ins the basal ganglia, which has not been well understood in the past. In more recent research with rats, however, scientists have learned more about the basal ganglia by observing rats’ learned behaviors. When encountering mazes, the rats’ basal ganglias recalled patterns that were then sequenced into automatic routines to form habits.


Many daily routines are based on habits, such as backing the car out of the driveway. Once a person grabs his or her car keys, the basal ganglia recognizes this habit and not much thought is required to back the car out. This efficiency prevents people from having to think too hard about everyday tasks. Habits are a way for the brain to save effort.

Individuals’ brains go through a three-step loop in the development of habits, which becomes more automatic over time:

  1. First, a cue instructs the brain to move into automatic mode.

  2. The routine that follows can include emotional, mental, or physical actions.

  3. A reward helps the brain determine whether the loop is worth remembering.

Once a habit is formed, the brain is no longer active in decision making. As a result, habits–good or bad–continue unless a conscious effort is made to change existing patterns. Once the loop process is understood, it becomes easier to replace bad habits with good ones. Even small steps can be enough to gradually change a negative pattern.

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