Habits, Cycles & Routines

Posted on 0 comment

Many surveys have shown that people typically make resolutions at the start of the year. Whether to improve their physical fitness, mental health, or diet, a lot of them are inspired by the revival in energy that the new year offers. In fact, gyms and fitness centres often see the biggest uptick in new clients at the start of the year. However, research has shown that nearly half of the people who set these resolutions – fail. Why? Well, according to experts, most of us are not practising “self-directed neuroplasticity.” 

A basic principle of neuroplasticity is ‘use-it-or-lose-it’. Just like the muscles and nerves in our bodies, the brain needs regular exercise and stimulation to grow and stay in shape. Neural connections and networks grow and become stronger if they are used, or they weaken and even fade away through a process called pruning otherwise known as homeostatic plasticity, if they are neglected. In other words, our brain is always doing the work of making new connections and associations when we have done or experienced something. 

There are two types of neuroplasticity: experience-dependent and self-directed. The term “self-directed neuroplasticity” was first coined by Jeffrey Schwart and used to describe the type of neuroplasticity when you intentionally rewire your brain to create positive habits. This is primarily done through active reflection. Experience-dependent neuroplasticity, on the other hand, is a passive process in which we reinforce habits by doing them unconsciously over and over again, whether they’re good or bad. This means that all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that you experience is becoming cues or information for your brain. This is how habits are formed.

How are Habits Formed

Habit formation is a complex process that involves various psychological and neurological mechanisms. There are several key stages involved in habit formation, which have been studied extensively in the fields of psychology and neuroscience:

  • Cue Recognition: This is a stimulus that acts as a cue for the brain to initiate a particular behaviour.
  • The Crave: Once a cue is recognised, it can trigger a sense of craving or anticipation for the reward associated with the behaviour. The brain releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and reward, further reinforcing the habit loop.
  • Response: This behaviour can be anything from a simple action like reaching for a snack to more complex behaviours like exercising or studying. With repetition, the behaviour becomes increasingly automatic and ingrained in the individual’s routine.
  • The Reward: Following the behaviour, the individual receives a reward or reinforcement that satisfies the initial craving. This reward reinforces the connection between the cue and the behaviour, making it more likely that the habit will be repeated in the future. Over time, the brain learns to anticipate the reward associated with the habit, further solidifying the habit loop.

As you can see, once we are able to create this cue-reward loop, a habit begins to form. Unfortunately, what this also means that is that it can also go on to perpetuate many not-so-good-for-us behaviours, especially when we do things repetitively, passively and unconsciously. In order to change this, we can still use the same principles of cue and reward to cultivate habits with outcomes we want intentionally. Over time, the brain begins to anticipate and prompt the behaviour in response to the cue. So with positive habits we wish to cultivate, the more intense, prolonged, or repeated the mental / neural activity is —especially if it is conscious—it will leave an enduring imprint in your neural structure.

Good Habits and Reflection

To encourage more self-directed neruoplasticity is utilising the power of reflection. In fact, this is one of the cornerstones of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). When we try something new or pick up a new habit, we need to pay attention to how it makes us feel. Reflection allows us to become more aware of our habits, behaviours, and cognitive patterns. This heightened awareness allows us to identify areas where we may want to initiate change or growth, which is essential for neuroplasticity to occur.

Reflection is also a process of cognitive engagement that stimulates neural activity and promotes the formation of new connections in the brain. By reflecting on what we have learned or experienced, we consolidate new memories and reinforce neural pathways associated with that information.

This is also one of the reasons why post ice bath, or any service or treatments for the matter, we invite guests to relax and enjoy there tea. That little pause before they step out of Soma Haus is extremely important in helping them engage in self-reflection, body awareness and reinforce self-directed neuroplasticitiy.

Track and Be Rewarded

So as we step into March and a turn of a season for some of you, we invite you to engage in self-directed neuroplasticity over the next 30 days. Instead of trying to achieve habits and goals with sheer power, create tangible cues to link them to things you want to do while actively reflecting and rewarding yourself for doing so. 

Remember to be gentle with yourself, and try not to get stuck in an “all-or-nothing” mindset for creating new habits. It’s okay to miss a few days, and even on days that you do, reflect on how you feel compared to days of committing to the habit and allow the brain to build new links and pathways of healthier behaviours. 

Track your habits and health journey with us. Grab our March Habit Tracker when you visit us and let us reward you with goodies that reinforce your health habit. Stamps are awarded for any service / treatment.