The basal ganglia = the holy grail

By Dave Henning / February 16, 2022

“When it comes to habit formation, the basal ganglia is the holy grail.  It’s the place where habits are stored.  It’s the switch that flips our behaviors. . . . the engine that powers our action selection. . . .  The basal ganglia is our chief executive officer when it comes to everyday decisions.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson moves on in his Introduction to Do It for a Day, he cites a Duke University study.  That study found that 45 percent of daily behavior is automatic.  Certainly, Mark notes, such habitualization saves us a tremendous amount of time and energy.  But that savings comes at a cost.  Because when a habit becomes second nature, we rarely give it a second thought.

Therefore, Pastor Batterson defines a habit as any behavior you put on repeat.  Whether or not you’re aware of your actions.  In addition, a habit consists of:

  • micro habits – such as the way you brush your teeth or hold your fork
  • macro habits – your coping mechanisms during a crisis or your defense mechanisms when criticized

Above all, Mark notes, old habits are the hardest habits to break.  And the length of time it takes to break a habit depends on the habit as well as the person.  Forming habits fails to fit into the one-size-fits-all category.  Habits are as unique as you are.

In conclusion, toward the end of the 2oth century, MIT researchers discovered a three-step process whereby habits are formed.  They named this process the habit loop, which consists of:

  1. cue – activates an automatic response
  2. routine – puts the behavior on repeat
  3. reward – perpetuates the pattern by dangling the proverbial carrot

Therefore, to break the habit cycle, you must (a) identify the prompt, (b) interrupt the pattern, and (c) imagine the prize.  However, this process takes a lot of trial and error.  Furthermore, you need raw honesty and holy curiosity.  And you approach all this from a third-person perspective.

Today’s question: What habits do you find hardest to make or break?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Virtuous cycle or vicious cycle?”

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Dave Henning

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