Habit-making is simply what our brains do. They’re designed to create neural pathways that provide the best results. So, when a desire triggers a reaction that in turn satisfies that initial urge, the brain takes note. The next time that desire arises, the brain calls up the circuitry that got the job done before. Part of this is neurochemistry, says psychologist and author Elisha Goldstein.
When an urge is satisfied—whether for soothing, attention, or any other response—we experience a rush of dopamine, the neurochemical associated with feeling good. After a few blasts of dopamine, we start to crave more, which then drives us to indulge in the triggering behavior, be it eating fast food, checking your phone, or lighting up a cigarette. Voila! You have a habit.
When we understand how a habit forms, we have a greater chance of catching it in the act, and take steps to make a more considered choice, says addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer. Think about a nagging habit. Next time you feel moved to act it out, see if you can trace each step. Can you see how the habit reinforces itself?2. Will, want, won’t