Understanding the Brain Science Behind Habits (In 6th Grade English)

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We don’t give much thought to our habits. Most people aren’t even aware of the habits that they have. And that’s a problem because, depending on the study, 40-60% of everything you do every day, is a habit.

The brain creates habits to reduce how much brain fuel it needs to operate. If your habits were an automobile, your habit car would get 100 miles per gallon, compared to other non-habit brain functions, which run at 20 miles per gallon.

Because habits are so important to an efficiently functioning brain, there are many brain regions involved in overseeing habits.

  • When you pass a McDonald’s, the image of those arches passes through your optical nerve, to the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which then notifies the Insular. (The RAS is connected to the Brain Stem and the Insular).
  • If the Insular considers the sensory input it receives from the RAS relevant to your life (think goals/dreams) or urgent (think potential threats), it then forwards that signal to the Prefrontal Cortex.
  • The Prefrontal Cortex evaluates the incoming sensory input and also forwards a signal to the Nucleus Accumbens (NA), the brain’s impulse control management department.
  • If the NA recognizes those arches as a habit Que, it sends a signal to the Basal Ganglia. (If the NA sees the arches as a threat, it, instead, sends a signal to the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, where fight or flight decisions are made).
  • If the Basal Ganglia sees the arches as a potential habit trigger, it will send a signal to the clump of neurons where the McDonald’s habit resides in the Neocortex (outer layer of the brain) and instruct those neurons to be prepared to engage in a habit.
  • That group of neurons instantaneously comes to life and sends a message to the Prefrontal Cortex that it would like to go to work and begin the habit.
  • The Prefrontal Cortex makes an executive decision to engage or not engage in the habit. In other words, the Prefrontal Cortex has the final say on habits.
  • If you’re not focused on living a healthy life, or not on some type of diet, the Prefrontal Cortex sends a signal to the Cerebellum and gives it permission to engage in the physical activity required to turn the steering wheel of your car into the McDonald’s parking lot so you can eat some hamburgers and french fries.

All of this takes place instantaneously. Amazing!

So, pay attention to your habits. They put your brain on autopilot for success, wealth and good health. Or, they can put your brain on autopilot for failure, poverty and poor health.


1 Comment

  1. Glen Pertzel on October 15, 2020 at 11:11 PM

    Thanks Tom!

    Very well explained and great info!!!

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