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🎧 How to Create Habits that Actually Stick

🎧 How to Create Habits that Actually Stick
By Elizabeth Filips • Issue #19 • View online
‘Tis the season to try and fail to establish new habits, so a full two hour deep dive on how habit formation actually works in the brain is an absolute godsend. I’ve put together my favourite bits: the components of habits, how they are formed, the counter-intuitive reasons we fail to establish habits in the long term and a formula for success. 
Here’s the summary of another mind-blowing podcast by Andrew Huberman:
Some important concepts:
  • Habits: behaviours that our nervous system learns - consciously or subconsciously
  • Limbic Friction: How much conscious override is required in order for you to undertake this activity? (Do you enjoy doing it, or do you have to force yourself to do it?). We want to minimise limbic friction in order to increase the likelihood of adopting new habits.
  • Linchpin Habits: Are habits that make other habits easier to do (for example working out first thing in the morning might make it more likely that you focus during work later).
  • The same habit can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to be formed in different people - the speed of habit formation is highly variable, there are no hard numbers.
The two components of habit strength:
1. How context dependent your habit is (do you do the same thing if you travel for example). 
  The less context dependent your habit is, so the stronger it is.
2. How much limbic friction is needed to execute it
  The less limbic friction you need, the stronger the habit.
How to form habits:
1. Just a single event of mentally walking yourself through all the steps that are necessary to form a habit will make it much more likely that you stick to that habit over time.
  • This reduces limbic friction by putting your brain through the sequence of what you want it to do.
  •  This is through Hebbian learning - where if you put your brain through an activity, it makes neurons which were otherwise unlikely to fire very likely to fire, so that you don’t need to recruit as much energy when you show up to perform that habit.
2. Task bracketing.
  • The dorsolateral striatum becomes activated just before and just after a task is performed. This is very important in the context dependance of the habit (how likely we are to do it irrespective of the environment).
  • So in the long term, it’s actually bad to perform habits regularly, at the same time and conditions again and again (although this might be good in the long term).
  • This is because our brain actually forms habits based on the STATE of our mind a the time, and this is what it anchors our habit to.
  • So you should insert your habit time into PAHSES of the day, rather than times of the day.
The Phases of your day
Phase 1: 0-8h after waking up
  • Norepinephrine and dopamine tend to be higher here, so we are more alert and focused here.
  • It’s good to do physical exercise, any cold exposure, any caffeine and high protein food here
  • This is the best time to try and implement habits quick have HIGH LIMBIC FRICTION.
Phase 2: 9-15h after waking up
  • The amount of norepinephrine and dopamine and cortisol go down and serotonin starts to rise.
  • It’s good to reduce our amount of light exposure and have heat exposure here (sauna).
  • This is the best time to try and implement habits that have LOW LIMBIC FRICTION, for example journalling or practicing an instrument.
Phase 3: 16-24h after waking up
  • Just relax and sleep lol
What next?
Very importantly, once you’ve established a habit, you should ideally try and move it to a different time of day, so the habit can be as context independent as possible. 
What doesn’t work?
  • People who are very rigid about the TIME at which they will do things (I will study from X-Y hour, exercise from Y-Z hour tend to NOT stick to those habits in the long term.
  • Notifications to do a habit to do not work in the long term (phone notifications to start working for example).
The Formula for habit formation:
  1. You set out to adopt 6 new habits over 21 days, with the expectation that you only compete 4-5 of them a day.
  2. There is no punishment for not doing the 1-2 a day, and no compensation for them in the long term (you don’t try to make up for skipping habits).
  3. You use the Phases of Day above to decide when to implement the habit. 
  4. Then you review after 21 days whether you have a need for these habits at all.

The Science of Making & Breaking Habits | Huberman Lab Podcast #53
The Science of Making & Breaking Habits | Huberman Lab Podcast #53
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Elizabeth Filips

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