Health Psychology Self improvement

Hidden Brain: How habits work

“When we repeat an action over and over again in a given context and then get a reward when you do that, you are learning very slowly and incrementally to associate that context with that behavior,” she says.

Wendy Wood

Today’s episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast, hosted by Shankar Vedantam, is excellent. The guest, Wendy Wood, is a psychology professor who debunks myths about willpower and explains how habits are formed and changed.

Some key points:

  • Will-power and education may be effective for one-off, short-term changes, but are not effective for forming or breaking habits.
  • Habits are the product of dopamine rewards in the brain and repetition.
  • To build a habit, make it easy to do, and enjoyable/rewarding.
  • To remove a habit, make it harder to do, and enjoyable/rewarding to avoid.
  • To be effective, positive and negative reinforcement need to be close to the “now.”