Making and breaking habits


FOTCM Member
Recently I listened to the following podcast by Andrew Huberman. There is plenty of information about making and breaking habits on the net and in the books, but what was interesting about this podcast, that he mentioned a lot of data that was backed up by scientific papers.

We know that not all "scientific" research is legit or worth paying attention to, but perhaps it is when it comes to such "non-controversial" topics. And also some of the information was different from what is usually being adviced, and yet it rang true. It looks like many things shared in the video can be usefull for those who have trouble forming long term habits.

So here is the video, and I'll also share key points for those who are short on time and don't want to listen to the entire podcast, though I highly recommend it.

Forming habits:

  • Habit formation or solidification is individual. Same habit formation can take 18-254 days for different individuals.
  • The indication of habit being formed: that we do it 85% of the time. It is also being done automatically without any mental effort.
  • The level of "limbic friction" regarding certain activity can tell us if habit formation will be easy or challenging.
  • Habits are often linked together. Meaning, that one habit that you actually enjoy can help with developing another habit.
  • The strength of the habit is being measured by "context dependence" and how much "limbic friction" is required to execute the habit.
  • If you decide to adopt a new habit, think about a very specific sequence of steps that requires to execute the habit. From start to finish. Because it engages the procedural memory. It shifts the brain into this mindset, with time making the chances of the activity more likely to occur.
  • Utilizing "task bracketing". Those are events that "frame the habit" right before and after. Task bracketing determines if the habit will be context related or not. How strong it will be. They are the ones that determine "the necessity" of the habit. The more "important" it is personally to you, the higher the chance that you'll do it no matter what.
  • There is a way to build up "task bracketing".
  • Schedule is not important for habit formation, it actually doesn't work long term. It's the state and the frame of mind that makes the difference.
  • But it's possible to utilize phases of the day for certain activities in order to increase chances of long term habit formation.
  • Phase I: 0-8 hours after waking up. Brain chemistry during this period is the most optimal for engaging in activities that have the highest level of "limbic friction".It's also the time to get as much light exposure as you can, fasting, exercise, cold showers, etc.
  • Phase II: 9-15 hours after waking up. Gradually dimming the light, unless it's sunlight. More relaxed activities. Sauna, hot showers. Doing habits that are already well developed or passed the phase of strong "limbic friction". For example, journaling and language learning.
  • Phase III: 16-24 hours after waking up. Very low to no light environment. Low temperature in the room during sleep. These things are beneficial for getting and staying in deep sleep when habit consolidation is happening. It's ok to wake up at night. But don't turn any light. The light should remain minimum.
  • Using the idea of phases instead of scheduling strict times is in fact "task bracketing". It is more open and creative than the rigit approach of schedule, and has a higher chance of a long term success.
  • And after the habit is formed enough you can or even advised to move it during the day and do it either in the first or second phase of the day.
  • Considering all the above, in addition to thinking about the exact steps you are going to take if you are develop a habit, it's important to include "task bracketing" and imagine the before and after. How much resistance and inner struggle it will take before, but you will overcome it, and how it will make you feel better about yourself after.
  • This kind of reward prediction boosts dopamine. Dopamine provides motivational boost.
  • It's different than self talk because you can't lie to yourself. In this case you just walk yourself mentally through the whole thing prior and after the action you want to perform. You don't contradict and accept that some of it is unpleasant.

Example of a 21 days program:

  • A list of 6 habits. You decide with phase of the day you do them based on the above suggestions.
  • The expectation is to do only 4-5 habits a day.
  • If you didn't manage to do 4-5 on one day, there is no accumulation or catching up the next day. Each day begins anew.
  • The key is consistency of doing and trying. The habit of performing habits.
  • If 6 habits per day is not optimal, you can expand it to a two days routine. 6 habits every two days.
  • Every 21 days you reassess the progress. No need to add new habits if you still have habits that are not yet reflexive.

Breaking habits:

  • In order to "break apart" formed neural connections, one has to utilize the process of "long term depression". The term has nothing to do with a psychological definition of depression.
  • In order to achieve that, immediately after you executed the habit, you bring awareness to the fact that the habit has happened. You notice that you did it. And then review the situation and do something you would want to replace this habit with.
  • Essentially, don't make an emphasis on modifying your inner state prior to the habit execution, in order to avoid doing the habit and failing. But right after you behaved habitually, notice it and immediately perform something you want to replace it with. Or do something that isn't aligned with the habit that you try to break. Do a positive habit that you would like to develop.
  • And due to the link of the "bad" habit with a "good" habit, with time the brain will start noticing the onset quicker and better.
  • It creates a cognitive and a temporal mismatch between the initial bad behavior that until now ran in "a closed loop", and now by changing the "number of features" in that loop, it disrupts the closed nature of that loop. It creates an open loop that allowes a more easier intervention.
Last edited:
Top Bottom