Habit Forming


Habits are behaviors or routines that people carry out on a regular basis. The process of creating these routines or habits is referred to as habit forming. Once habits are formed they are stored and are used in similar situations later on. If a habit is already formed, a familiar situation or stimulus in the future can trigger the habit to be preformed without conscious thought on the part of the person. Since they are carried out subconsciously, habits are a form of implicit memory. These are simply memories that don't require active conscious thinking in the process of carrying out an action.

external image positive_and_negative_reinforcement.jpg?version=1&modificationDate=1359872845000Forming Habits

Implicit memories, and more specifically habits, are formed by the process of procedural learning. Procedural learning is the process in which a person forms a habit so they no longer react differently to the same repeated stimulus. When first presented with a stimulus a person must react to it. This reaction or behaviors success is based on the presence of a reinforcer, or something that encourages a behavior. Reinforcers can be positive or negative but both lead the the original behavior being repeated. If the reaction to the stimulus is not followed by a reinforcer, the behavior will likely not be repeated. If the reaction is followed by a reinforcer, either positive or negative, it will be repeated as long as the reinforcer continues to follow it. With enough repetitions it will eventually become a habit. Whenever the stimulus is presented, the brain will subconsciously trigger the learned behavior or habit. Simply put, a habit is a cue, a routine, and a reward.

Good Habits

A good habit is a sought after, or ideal behavioral pattern. It is described as a persons ideal response or routine when presented with a cue or a given situation. Habits are usually identified as good because the are in some way healthy for the person. For example, the good habit of exercising daily could lead to physical health, or the good habit of behaving in class could improve social or mental health. Good habits are not always easy to form but there are many way in which it is possible. The time it takes to form a good habit varies between each

individual and depends on the habit which is trying to be achieved. Major steps to forming a good habit can be found in the video to the left. The steps he covers are essential to making sure the habit sticks with you. It is important to identify the thee major parts of a habit so that you can work towards forming it. First, pick a cue. This should be what you want to trigger the habit. If you want better behavior in class, use the teacher walking into the room to begin as your cue. Then, it is essential to identify the ideal behavior. If better behavior in class is the goal, the student should sit down and outline in great detail exactly how this is possible. When the cue is present, the behavior needs to be carried out every time, with no exceptions. Lastly, determine something rewarding that can be used as a positive reinforcer. A common mistake occurs at this point that can be easily avoided. Most people pick something that they think will play into their overall goal. For instance most people focused on getting physically fit will choose a salad as a reward. When it isn't actually something you want, it win't be rewarding to achieve. A person should really focus on picking something that would truly be rewarding to them. After working out chocolate would be an excellent reward. Even though it seems to counteract what you've done, eventually the reward won't be necessary for the habit to be carried out. In the beginning, it is best to simply pick something that will motivate you to repeat the behavior every time. There are many other small things that can be done to ensue the the ideal habit is formed. Although it may be difficult in the begging to create a new habit, the long term effects of having good healthy habits are worth the stress and work it takes to create them.

Bad Habits

Bad habits are unwanted behavioral patterns. They are use classified as being unhealthy or detrimental to the either the individual, or individuals around them. Bad habits are created just the same as good ones, by the repeated presence of a reinforcer after the behavior pattern. Reinforcers are present in every case but play a large role in the formation and continuation of bad habits, especially addictions. Addictions can be cued by many things, such as stress and social pressure. Cases of addiction to alcohol or drugs are special cases. Instead of an external reinforcer, the drugs effect neurotransmitters in the brain. Some drugs actually mimic the effect of neurotransmitters while others cause an extreme amount of the neurotransmitter to be
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released. Still others, like demonstrated in the figure, block transporters cells responsible for taking extra neurotransmitter cells back up. The neurotransmitters affected by drugs, like dopamine and serotonin, take the place of the reinforcer. The "high" the create acts as a positive reinforcer and causes people to continue taking drugs. Eventually the effects of the drugs are decreased, but like all other habits, after enough repetitions the reinforcer is no longer needed. Once a person makes a habit out of drug use, or in other words an addiction, there can be permanent negative effects on the brain. Of course, drug use is not the only form of a bad habit. Other bad habits also can be linked to the presence of a reinforcer. The positive reinforcer of winning can cause an individual to become seriously addicted to gambling. In hopes of the reward of social acceptance many children will act out and have bad behavior in class. Bad habits are formed exactly like good habits, with the presence of a cue, a behavior, and a reinforcer.

Breaking Bad Habits

Habits are not something that are easy to go about breaking. Implicit memories, including habits, are a form of long term memory. When a long term memory is formed in the brain a new physical connection is actually created. This is why old habits seem so difficult to break, they are actually physically imbedded in the portion of the brain known as the baso ganglia. While the task may seem daunting, it is not impossible to change your routines. There are several different methods and tips available to work on this, but there are two methods most commonly known to be effective. Awareness is the first commonly used method to break a bad habit and pick up a good one. This means that instead of trying to actually change the habit, which is very difficult, a person attempts to change the trigger. For example, if a person wants to start exercising more often, and avoid being lazy for long periods of time, the person should pay attention to their environment when they are being lazy. In the future, the should try to avoid this environment so they don't continue their habit of being lazy. The other method is substitution. This method is more difficult in the beginning but is more permanent. This is the idea that you ignore the trigger and focus on substituting the bad habit for a good one. If a person has a problem with overeating and wanted to use the substitution method, they should find try to only eat healthy menus. Instead of trying to stop overeating, they can substitute the bad food for healthier options. The video below shows how both methods can be utilized to hopefully break and end your bad habits.

Work Cited

-Abnormal Brain Structure Implicated in Stimulant Drug Addiction, Science 3 February 2012: 601-604.
-"Brain and Drug Addiction Information." Brain on Drugs. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
-BUILDING NEURAL REPRESENTATIONS OF HABITS, Science 26 November 1999: Vol. 286 no. 5445 pp. 1745-1749
-Deep Habits, Review of Economic Studies (2006) 73 (1): 195-218
-Neural Mechanisms Underlying the Vulnerability to Develop Compulsive Drug-Seeking Habits and Addiction, October 2008 vol. 363 no. 1507 3125-3135
-Understanding Implicit Memory: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach, Schacter, Daniel L. American Psychologist, Vol 47(4), Apr 1992, 559-569
-7 Steps to Developing Good Habits. Dir. Brian Tracy. Perf. Brian Tracy. YouTube. Brian Tracy, 11 Dec. 2012. Web.
-How To Break Bad Habits. Perf. WellCast. YouTube. WellCast, 30 Nov. 2012. Web.