It’s great for airplanes on long cross-country flights. Possibly, in the near future, it will be a new product for automobiles.
Today, autopilot is an efficient shortcut for the human brain.
Science has estimated that nearly 40 percent of the average person’s daily activities are habit. That percentage indicates that nearly half of our day is not our choice at all — but habit.
So much for free will, huh?
Evaluate your morning routine. Is it free choice? Or is it a habit? Do you always brush your teeth before or after your shower?
The reason for developing habits is that they make for an easy way for the brain operate. If you don’t have to critically think about brushing your teeth and putting on your socks, then you divert brain power to more important things.
“My habits and routines at work are the same everyday during the first part of the morning through mid-day,” Reno volunteer Kirra Perez said.
“I know what it is I need to do to begin the day, and that knowledge, in itself, assists me in planning the rest of my day with other non-routine items of work.”
So just how does the brain develop habits? Experts say cue and repetition are the keys to creating habits, willingly or not.
The first step in the habit-forming process is a trigger, this is termed as cue by psychology experts.
Cues are the initial spark that triggers your brain to switch into the autopilot mode. And as we learned in the previous article, our brains actually turn off during the habit routine.
The flip of the light switch first thing in the morning, that could be a cue. Entering the highway at the on-ramp, that could be a cue. Exiting the daily lunch line with your tray, that could be a cue.
Each cue sparks to the brain to tell it to then act in a predicted pattern.
What fires together, wires together.
Immediately following the cue, the habit routine begins to unfold. The pattern plays out and your brain relies on memory, rather than critical thinking. The action is always the same, and always repeatable.
Repetition creates stronger neural pathways, scientists believe, and that allows the brain to deepen and strengthen the connection between the cue and the habitual act.
Imagine a man-made path cutting through a forest. The first person to walk and create the short cut had a woodsy and obstacle-filled path. Clearing bushes and rocks, and pushing branches, the first path walker had a tough time creating the route. The second hiker comes along and finds a semi-cleared path. Decides to take the same route and clears more things along the way as well. As more and more hikers trek down the same path, the obstacles wear thin. The path becomes more clear and easier to navigate. The path eventually becomes worn and there are clear tracks in the dirt to make that connection almost effortless.
Repetition is the key to the creation and strengthening of habit.
“What fires together, wires together,” neuroscientists have been known to say.
- Habits are caused by a sequence of cues and repetition.
- Recognize your habits.
- Identify the cues for your habit.
- Decide if you would like to change or create habits.
Harvard Business Review. 2012, June. Habits: Why We Do What We Do. Note: content edited. Original Material
Society for Personality and Social Psychology. 2014, August 8. How we form habits, change existing ones. ScienceDaily. Note: content edited. Original Material
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit : Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, N.Y. :Random House : Books on Tape, 2012. Audio Recording.
Cozolino, Louis. Nine Things Educators Need to Know About the Brain. Greater Good Magazine. 2013, March 19. Original Material
Neal, David T.; Wood, Wendy; Wu, Mengju; Kurlander, David
The Pull of the Past: When do Habits Persist Despite Conflict With Motives? PSPB; 01 Nov. 2011; DOI 10.1177/0146167211419863
Wood, W., Quinn, J. M., & Kashy, D. A. (2002). Habits in everyday life: Thought, emotion, and action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002, 83(6), 1281-1297. DOI 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1241