Doing This One Simple Thing Will Make Your Brain Start Craving Better Habits

Ditching a bad habit is WAY easier than you thought.

shutterstockFor better or worse, we all have this one thing in common: habits. Some healthy habits will boost your brain, while others prove you’re smarter than everyone else. But if you’re really itching to break a bad pattern, science has the scoop. As it turns out, we can actually train our brains to crave good habits, instead of defaulting to bad ones.

You may think that’s easier said than done, but hear us out. “At the core of every habit is a neurological loop with three parts: A cue, a routine and a reward,” according to the New York Times. “To understand how to create habits—such as exercise habits—you must learn to establish the right cues and rewards.”

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to start exercising in the morning. When your alarm goes off, make it your goal to jump out of bed right away instead of hitting snooze. Being on time in the morning will make you feel accomplished and less stressed—and that could lead to even more benefits down the road, such as being more productive at work and maintaining healthier relationships. With those kinds of perks, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll do the same thing again the next morning. Behold: A great habit has formed. (There’s a scientific reason for your most annoying habits, too.)

But wait, doesn’t giving yourself a reward for the effort (such as a piece of chocolate after a run) seem kind of counterintuitive? Not so fast. Research shows that— those who formed a habit such as exercising did so because they associated it with a specific cue and reward. Pretty soon, you won’t need the physical reward to feel those happiness hormones pinging in your brain, experts say.

So the next time you grab a latte just to celebrate waking up on time for work, do so guilt-free. It’s just one of the almost effortless ways to be WAY more productive.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.