Understanding Habits - January 4, 2017

Scripture References:

Romans 12:1-2

Ephesians 4:17-31

What does it mean to “renew our minds”?

Two concepts:

  1. To be equipped with new stories and worldviews (you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free).
  2. To be retrained with new habits - routines that shape our lives and about which we rarely have to think.

What habits would you like to see changed in your life?  What habits would you like to add to your life?

Brain Anatomy – Frontal Lobe vs Basil Ganglia.

The frontal lobe manages conscious thought, decision making, memory, etc.

The basil ganglia manages automatic behaviors like breathing, eating, walking, etc. 

Key concept - Habits exist in a separate portion of the brain from logic, reason and memory.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.  We call this “chunking.”  Chunking - from brushing your toothpaste to getting dress or making lunch.  Or backing your car out of a driveway.

Key concept - Brain has to know when to cede control to a habit and when to maintain active processing.  So it looks for something we call a “Cue” that lets it know what pattern to use.  For the rat, this is the click.  If the rat heard a MEOW, it would use a different pattern.

Then, at the end of the habit, the brain wakes up when it gets the reward to confirm everything happened as expected.

Habit only works in the presence of the stimulus – hence reward-based stimuli are more effective than punishment based stimuli.

This is the Habit Loop - cue - routine – reward.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making, so it can divert to other tasks.  So unless you deliberately fight a habit, finding new routines, the pattern will happen automatically.  

But, understanding the process is critical to changing it.  It takes conscious work to change unconscious behavior

Habits are both durable and delicate.  Most importantly, your brain can’t distinguish between good and bad habits.

Reflection – what good and bad habits do you have or want?

Conversation: Discussion Questions

1.       Have you ever had the experience of being on autopilot while driving?  Or another situation where you were performing a complex task without conscious thought?

2.      Explain the Habit Loop to someone else.  Does this make sense to you?

3.      What spiritual habits would you like to include in your life?  What habits do you want to see changed?

4.      Have you ever relied on will power to change a habit?  How did that go?

5.      Why do you think God wired us to have these habits? 

6.      Re-read Romans 12:1-1.  How is this process of habit formation part of your worship?