Andrew Huberman is an American neuroscientist and associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine who has made many contributions to the brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration and repair fields.
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Habits are a big part of who we are what We do habitually makes up much of what We do entirely in fact it's estimated That up to 70 percent of our waking Behavior is made up of Habitual Behavior People are highly variable and if you Can't form one habit easily it doesn't Mean that you can't form other habits Easily It takes 21 days to form a habit some People say 18 some people say 21 some People say 30 days some people say 60 Days so which one is it does it depend On the Habit that one is trying to form Or does it depend on the person that's Trying to inform the Habit there's a Study published in 2010 first author Lally l-a-l-l-y This study found that for the same Habit To be formed It can take anywhere from 18 days to as Many as 254 days for different Individuals to form that habit [Music] So what I'd like to do is to take the Scientific literature of how the nervous System learns and engages in Neuroplasticity and apply that to Habit Formation habit maintenance and if so Desired how to break particular habits I'd like to give you a particular tool That's gleaned from the research Psychology literature With each repetition of a habit small
Changes occur in the cognitive and Neural mechanisms associated with Procedural memory so I just want to talk For a second about what procedural Memory is in the Neuroscience of memory We distinguish between what's called Episodic memory and procedural memory Episodic memory is a recall of a Particular set of events that happened Whereas procedural memory is holding in Mind the specific sequence of things That need to happen in order for a Particular outcome to occur so think of It like a recipe or a protocol or if for The sake of exercise it's like sets and Reps or a particular course that you're Going to run or cycle or the number of Laps you're going to swim and how you're Going to perform it It's very clear that for anyone trying To adopt new habits getting into the Mindset of procedural memory is very Useful for overcoming that barrier that We call limbic friction how do you do That well a simple visualization Exercise or it doesn't even have to be Done eyes closed you know oftentimes we Hear visualization exercise you think About sitting in the low disposition Eyes closed and you're trying really Hard to visualize something doesn't need To be anything like that it can simply Be if you are deciding to adopt a new Habit to just think about the very
Specific sequence of steps that's Required to execute that habit and I'll Use a trivial example but this could be Applied to anything let's say I want to Get into the habit of making myself or Someone else in my household a cup of Espresso every morning I would actually Think through each of those steps walk Into the kitchen turn on the espresso Machine draw the espresso walking Through each of those steps from start To finish it turns out just that simple Mental exercise has done once can shift People toward a much higher likelihood Of Performing that habit regularly not Just the first time but as they continue Out into the days and weeks that follow So that's remarkable to me and the Literature is really robust [Music] So now I'd like to discuss a second and What I think is perhaps the most Powerful tool for being able to acquire And stick to new habits The tool that I'm referring to is Something called task bracketing and the Neural circuits associated with task Bracketing are basically the neural Circuits that are going to allow you to Learn any new type of habit or break any Habit that you'd like to break We have in our brain a set of neural Circuits that fall under the umbrella Term of the basal ganglia the basal
Ganglia are involved in action execution Meaning doing certain things and action Suppression Not doing certain things In the experimental realm these are Referred to as go meaning do or no go Don't do certain things and some of us Fall more into the category of we find It very easy to do certain things but Harder to not do other things some People have a lot of no go type circuits That are very robust and they have a lot Of Behavioral constraint but they have a Harder time getting into action and some People have a perfect balance of both But I've never met one of those people Foreign [Music] Involves a particular set of neural Circuits within the basal ganglia Is that we have particular circuits in Our brain that are devoted to framing The events that happen just before and As we initiate a habit and just after And as we terminate a habit in other Words it acts as a sort of marker for The Habit execution but not the Execution of the Habit per se this is Very important because task bracketing Is what underlies whether or not a habit Will be context dependent or not whether Or not it will be strong and likely to Occur even if we didn't get a good Night's sleep the night before even if
We're feeling distracted even if we are Not feeling like doing something Emotionally or if we are you know Completely overwhelmed by other events If the neural circuits were task Bracketing are deeply embedded in us Meaning they are very robust around a Particular habit well then it's likely That we're going to go out for that zone Two cardio no matter what that we're Going to brush our teeth no matter what In fact brushing our teeth is a pretty Good example because for most people Even if you got a terrible night's sleep Even if everything in your life is going Wrong chances are unless you're very Depressed if you're going to leave to Work or even if you're not that you're Going to still carry out the behavior of Brushing your teeth in the morning I Would hope so actually but you are Probably less likely to perform Particular habits that are not what you Deem as necessary but if you think about It Brushing your teeth exercise eating Particular Foods maybe engaging socially In particular ways You are the one that places any kind of Value assessment on which ones are Essential and which ones are negotiable So task bracketing sets a neural imprint A kind of a fingerprint in your brain of This thing has to happen at this
Particular time of day so much so that It's reflexive [Music] Foreign While it is important to think about the Sequence of events that would be Required in order to engage in that Behavior that procedural memory Visualization exercise we talked about Before that will help there is a way Also that you can Orient your nervous System toward this tax bracketing Process so that your nervous system is Shifted or oriented towards the Execution of a given habit So this is sort of like warming up your Body to exercise when the dorsolateral Striatum is engaged your body and your Brain are primed to execute a habit and Then you get to consciously insert which Habit you want to perform so in order to Leverage the neural mechanisms of task Bracketing in order to increase the Likelihood that you're going to perform A particular habit I have to break it to you that one thing That you've probably heard over and over About habit formation is not true And what I'm referring to is this idea That if you are very specific about Exactly when you're going to perform a Particular habit that you are more Likely to perform that habit And while that is true in the short term
It is not true in the long term And the reason for that is that our Nervous system tends to generate Particular kinds of behaviors based not On time but on our state meaning what Level of activation is taking place in Our brain and body how much Focus we Happen to have how fatigued we are how Energized we are [Music] If you are considering adopting a new Habit or if you are trying to break a Habit it's very useful to think not just About the procedural aspects of what You're going to do but also think about The events that precede and follow that Particular habit and the execution or at Least the effort to execute that habit What you're doing is you're casting a Kind of a spotlight around a bin of time Or a set of events for which dopamine Can be Associated what does this look Like in the practical sense well again I'm just trying to use very simple Concrete examples but this could carry Over to anything let's say I or somebody Who has a hard time getting in that 30 To 60 Minutes of Zone 2 cardiovascular Exercise mid-morning what I should do is Positively anticipate the onset and the Offset of that session right so thinking About leaning into the effort Going out and doing that zone 2 cardio Session and I should think about how I'm
Going to feel after so not just thinking About how great I'm going to feel after But also thinking about how Hard it's going to be at the beginning And then trying to reward myself Subjectively for the entire experience In other words start rewarding task Bracketing in addition to rewarding the Execution of the Habit itself [Music] And in that moment capture the sequence Of events not that led to the bad habit Execution but actually to take advantage Of the fact that the neurons that were Responsible for generating that bad Habit were were active a moment ago and To actually engage in a replacement Behavior immediately afterward now this Is really interesting and I think Powerful because I would have thought That you have to engage in a replacement Behavior that truly replaces the bad Habit Behavior right that you would have To be able to identify your state of Mind or the sequence of events leading Into the bad habit but rather the stage Or the period immediately after the bad Habit execution is a unique opportunity To insert a different type of what we Would call adaptive Behavior but that Could be any Behavior that's not in line With the bad behavior so let's give it An example let's say you find yourself You're trying to do focused work you
Pick up your phone you're disappointing Yourself for for picking up your your Phone you could of course just put it Down or you and re-engage in the work Behavior but if you were good at that Then you probably wouldn't have done it In the first place and so what turns out To be very effective is to go engage in Some other positive habit now this has Two major effects the first one is you Start to link in time the execution of a Bad behavior to this other good behavior And in doing so you start to recruit Other neural circuits other neurons that Can start to somewhat dismantle the Sequence of firing associated with the Bad behavior in other words you start to Create a kind of a double habit that Starts with a bad habit and then ends With a good habit and that seems to Create enough of a temporal mismatch so That then recognizing when you're Heading toward the bad habit becomes More apparent to you so again I want to Make this very very concrete let's say That the behavior is reflexively picking Up one's phone you do that you think oh Goodness I did it again here's what I'm Going to do you would set that down and Then you would engage in some other Positive behavior that you've deemed Positive and here it's very subjective So it's hard for me to give an example That will necessarily make sense to
Everybody but perhaps um you're working On hydration so maybe you go have a Glass of water maybe you are trying to Do breath work or something maybe you're You are trying to enhance your language Speaking skills and so you go and you Spend five minutes doing A particular type of language learning You literally exit whatever you are Doing and perform that other new Positive Habit in the immediate period Right after that even for a short period Of time [Music]