How Habits Change Your Brain


Hey smart people, Joe here. What if I told you that the reason you had
minty-fresh breath this morning was because 100 years ago an advertiser named Claude C.
Hopkins was having trouble selling a brand of toothpaste? He needed to convince people that brushing
their teeth should be a daily routine, and back then, it wasn’t for most people. In the end he was able to get half the American
public to pick up a new behavior and repeat it every single day, and pay money for his
toothpaste. How did he do it? By tapping into neuroscience and decoding
the awesome power of habits. [OPEN] Habits. We’ve all got ‘em. You can probably think of a few of your own. I always seem to tap my feet when I’m trying
to sit still. And I find myself biting my nails whenever
I’m focused on reading or watching a movie. I don’t consciously think about doing these
things. That’s because I’ve done them so often
that they’ve become a habit. We know habits as things we do automatically;
tasks we do subconsciously, like walking or high fiving. And there’s a ton of things that technically
count as habits, and they can be good or bad. So why do we form habits? And how do we learn new ones, or un-learn
old ones? If you’ve ever taken the same path to school
or work, then you likely have that pathway burned into your brain. You can probably walk it without really paying
attention. Habits are built in a similar way. New neural pathways are formed when you repeat
a behavior. And the more a brain circuit fires, the easier
it becomes for our brain to do whatever that circuit controls, without conscious thought. Think back to how you learned to ride a bike. At first, riding a bike is tough. You’ve got to learn how to pedal and balance
and turn all at the same time. You have to consciously think about each action. This happens in an area of your brain called
the prefrontal cortex, the part associated with complex thought. But eventually, after you ride enough, you
no longer have to consciously think about each individual action. Riding a bike has become a habit, and now
it’s controlled by different parts of your brain. One area involved in habitual behavior is
the striatum, which actually releases chemicals that inhibit the complex thinking part of
your brain for that task. This is your brain being efficient. By turning down your brain’s thinking requirements
for bike riding, it’s free to think other things, like ‘how exactly do igloos keep
you warm?” Let’s go back to Claude Hopkins and his
toothpaste scheme. Claude realized habits have three key ingredients. A cue, a behavior, and a reward. A cue is something that triggers a behavior,
like how the alarm clock triggers you punching the snooze button, and this is followed by
the reward – 9 sweet extra minutes of sleeping in. Claude got people thinking about that slimy
film on your teeth in the morning, thanks to bacteria that colonize your mouth overnight. The sticky film is the cue that triggers brushing
behavior. What was the reward? Claude convinced people this film would make
their smile look ugly and a prettier smile was the reward for brushing. Claude understood that with the right cue
and the right reward, you could entice people to do just about whatever behavior you wanted. But what he didn’t know was that rewarding
a behavior can actually create a craving, and this is what makes habits so strong. Scientists now know that special neurons in
the brain can fire and give us chemical rewards. But what’s weird is that once a habit and
a reward are tied together in our brain, those reward neurons start firing even before you
do the behavior. This is what causes craving, and it’s why
you want popcorn when you go to the movies, why you pick up your bad habits when you see
other people doing them, and why habits are so hard to break. Claude knew a prettier smile would be a reward
that would make people brush, but he didn’t anticipate that over time people would subconsciously
start craving the minty tingle that Pepsodent left in their mouths. People’s brains actually started to crave
toothbrushing. So how can you train yourself to pick up a
new habit, like eating an apple a day. And if you’ve got a bad habit, can you break
it, or are you stuck with it forever? Scientists used to think that our brains didn’t
change all that much once we reached adulthood, like concrete once it’s solidified. But it turns out your brain is much more like
clay – it’s a super flexible organ. The chemistry of your brain is constantly
changing as you go about your day, in response to everything from learning to moving to hunger. These chemical releases are short lived, but
over time, if the same behaviors are repeated, the physical structure of the brain is actually
changed. You create new neural pathways. And because the neural network has changed,
so does the way the information flows. When a behavior is repeated often enough,
a habit is formed. There’s a famous idea that a new skill is
learned by putting in 10,000 hours of work, but it’s not that simple. The amount of time differs hugely between
tasks and between people. What’s for sure is that when it comes to
making a habit, whether it’s learning guitar or meditation, there’s simply no substitute
for repetition. The reason bad habits are so hard to break
is because you have literally woven new neural networks into your brain. That doesn’t go away overnight. So give yourself a break. And if you’re trying to change a habit,
know that it’s usually best to try and replace bad behavior with a new behavior instead of
just trying to erase the pattern altogether. The good thing is that now you know you have
the power to change your brain. It’s as easy as brushing your teeth. And
if you haven’t already made it a habit – Stay Curious.

100 thoughts on “How Habits Change Your Brain

  1. Hey Joe, what about doing a follow-up video on addictions and how they are formed (in relation to habits) and why some people are more susceptible to addiction than others.

  2. If you trained a dog to bark when you hold up your hand by rewarding it with a treat afterwards. You've made your dog a new habit, or trick.

  3. Que: I'm hungry
    Behavior: Eat an apple
    Reward: The Apple tastes good.

    But you have to buy apples, have to pick up that habit too.

  4. Can I "rewire" the neuropathways in my brain to learn Arabic by using the cue, behaviour, reward system? How would I go about structuring my learning strategies or study techniques to make speaking a language that is so unfamiliar to me seem habitual or routine?

  5. Your thoughts become words, your words become actions, your actions become habits, your habits become your character, and your character becomes your destiny – Mahatma Gandhi

  6. 10 000 hours of work to learn a new skill?
    So 5 years of practicing that skill for 40 hours a week? What kind of skill is that supposed to be?

  7. Guy:It's said that we learn something if we put 10.000 hours of work into it.
    Me expects:he will say it is simpler.
    Guy:But it is way harder to learn "it".

  8. This is what hitler abused to make people Hate jews and Love him. Because he promised a better world inhabited by the pure arian race

    People believed it and followed him blind to pursue this new world. Sadly enough at the expense of "lesser" races who one by one got attacked and slaughtered until the world war officialy started

  9. Changing your habits is as easy as brushing your teeth. I really like that. I like to post motivational things around my house sometimes, I think I'll be using this one

  10. It took me 11 years to stop biting my nails and something i still almost bite them without thinking about so i still dont think i’v completely broken the habit, AFTER 11 YeArs

  11. The last point about replacing a habit with a new one is very true. When I quit smoking I started to exercise a lot, and since you can't do that all day long I went over to chewing gum as well, not nicotine gum, but regular just to keep my brain occupied. In 14 days I didn't even want a cigarette. Still don't want it now 6 years later.

  12. I always get “always remember to play, but forget the priority”
    Well, it wasn’t me, it was my habit turned on the PS4

  13. Did you know that when you charge your phone your phone is something to the tune of .00000001 ounces heavier? 🤔 Talk about the weight of data/electricity!

  14. Just changing the place where my Instagram app is, helped me to not automatically go there. It’s crazy how I always went on there without even wanting to.

  15. I have a habit of breaking habits, and repeating repetitions only build my skills, not habits

    Its hard to crave for something, and difficult to develop an addiction, even drugs

  16. I love this video. The video is quite informative as shows how malleable our brains really are, and how powerful they are! 🧠🧠🧠

  17. Cant even remember learning it now I only think of three steps of riding a bike
    Push off
    Pedal
    Steer
    Anything else is natural ig

  18. I think this is why politicians have slogans and initiate chants at their rallies. they are trying to get people create an association between them and the adrenaline rush/endorphins it causes. We must always be on our guard: this tactic is used, in some version, by many who want to separate us from our money/reason/independence, etc.

  19. ive been brushing my teeth for years with mint tooth paste, and i dont crave that minty tooth paste every morning

  20. If you’re doing something habitually, on autopilot, does that technically mean that these many actions are done without free will?

  21. I have been trying to draw and improve for 5 years with no luck. I never practice. I really need to make it a habit but I'm afraid.

  22. I would qualify bike riding as more of a skill, then it is a habit. Don't get me wrong, cyclists certainly display addictive personality traits.

  23. Hi Joe, l too bite my nails while reading, do you know why the heck this happens? the closest l got to answering it was that it's due to my brain processing information, but it nonetheless drives me nuts! Cheers.

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