How curiosity is the key to breaking bad habits

Habits are everything.

They are the reason for some 40% of our actions every day.

And at first glance, the cycle seems simple:

cue/trigger –> routine/behavior –> reward –> repeat

But the power of habits, as the title goes of Charles Duhigg’s marvelous dissection of the topic, is in their application.

Once something becomes a habit, it becomes harder to override. This is rooted in neuroscience. Cognitive control, or intellectual decision-making, happens in the youngest part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. Habits, those come from a deeper, more primal part of our brain called the basal ganglia. It’s the same area of the brain that plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition.

This is why breaking a bad habit is so difficult, even when we intellectually know the benefit of doing so. (It also happens to be why emotional arguments typically resonate more than intellectual ones. But that’s a topic for another day.)

In this TED talk, psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer offers one easy way to break bad habits. The key has nothing to do with will-power. Instead, we can stop bad habits in their tracks by being curious and more mindful.

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