18: Habits

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
18: Habits

Today, we’re talking about habits

Specifically, When is a habit worth breaking?

Show notes and links:
Does it really take 21 days to break a habit? (Slate magazine)
How You Can Harness “The Power of Habit” (NPR)
Stereotypes and Prejudice: Helping Legal Decisionmakers Break the Prejudice Habit (California Law Review)

Full episode text

So much of the human brain and human experience is built on habit loops. Every action and thought, in some way, is tied to a release of neuropeptides that tie in with receptors throughout our bodies. In the 2012 book “The Power of Habit”, the author wrote about habit loops of cue, routine, and reward. This loop reinforces itself again and again, and a habit is born.

Though this is just how habits are developed and reinforced — and so much of our lives are habit. Habits are everything from brushing your teeth to eating chocolate when you’re stressed. Some make us much more productive, and some keep us from achieving our goals.

A 1995 paper in the California Law Review outlines how, for lawmakers, something as impactful as prejudice in decision-making can be traced to a unthinking habit or belief. The use – or lack of use – of public transit is even argued to be a socially constructed and reinforced habit in a 2005 paper presented at the International Transport and Psychology conference.

But just about any habit can be broken – or developed – if you are willing to give yourself the proper cue, routine, or reward. On an individual level, the decision to break a habit often can be made on the basis of the consequences and costs of that habit – if the emotional, physical, or social consequences of a habit outweigh the costs of breaking it, then the leverage point may become obvious. On a social level, however, the costs and consequences are much more complex .