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  • Writer's pictureKirin Escher

The Science of Habit in the Brain

How many of us are guilty of saying or thinking negative thoughts to ourselves, or know people that do?

Over time, the more this happens, the easier it is to say those negative remarks to ourselves because the “muscle of habit” (connected in the parts of the brain below) is worked on over and over again until it becomes so strong, the habit becomes hard to break.

Te human brain LOVES STRUCTURE. When it can, it wires thoughts, emotions, everyday tasks, etc. deep inside and uses it as 'autopilot.' Which is why not many of us like change. However, luckily, the brain is capable of “Neuroplasticity.”

But first, some Science-y information is coming at you:

- Habits are formed in the Striatum of the brain, which is part of the basal ganglia (a key part of the brain in the development of emotions, emotions, and pattern recognition).

- The Striatum is connected to the Prefrontal cortex (decision-making brain) and the Midbrain (receives dopamine input).

- These are affected by Dopamine, which if any of you have read Melissa (Hartwig) Urban's ISWF, dopamine is the “feel good” hormone. It is associated with creating positive feelings related to rewards & events that trigger us emotionally.

- Dopamine is released after each (habit) action. Each time the action is performed, Dopamine is released earlier and earlier and just thinking about it will cause it to become more automatic. Ex. This is why the first 2 weeks of Whole30 are a steep hill climb, whereas the last 2 weeks aren’t as bad and the hill levels off.


According to *The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton, the definition of neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on input from your experiences, behaviors, emotions, and even thoughts.

This is reassuring because it means that, although it may be difficult to break a habit that has formed, it is 100% possible! It's never too late to change a habit.

People say it takes 21 days to break a habit, however this is not true. It depends on the type of habit and how long you have been performing that habit.

(Ex. It takes at least 30 days to change habits with food [Whole30])

All habits have the same features: Habits are

1. **Triggered by a particular cue, situation, or event.

2. Learned over time by being repeated over and over.

3. Performed automatically, often with little conscious awareness.

4. **Habits are persistent—once formed, they are very hard to break.

**Changes in these = break habits

To be continued....

The next post will have the "Habit Loop" on what is needed to break a habit & Tips to creating and maintaining a habit.

I will also be attaching a PDF to reference with quick facts & pictures

By: Kirin Escher, MD

Key terms: ISWF (It Starts With Food)

*References: The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton

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