Have you ever gone out on one of those walks, when you needed some time alone to clear your head and connect to your self more than ever? and you just kept walking for may be 15 odd minutes and then came back home emptying the sack of regressive concerns in the thin air, but let’s rewind those 15 minutes and In between that period of time you perhaps roamed around your vicinity or may be in a park nearby, obeying almost all basic laws, without pushing someone or getting bumped into others, managing through different kinds of sidewalks, without getting hit by a vehicle and so on. your brain for the most part of it was charting the unfathomable depths of your emotional needs and wasn’t aimed particularly or specified; for tasks like , making your way through objects and people on your entire way or for how long and till what point you have to keep walking before you begin to walk back home and via exactly which way.
Most of the action and movement related behavior is coordinated through a regress training we go through, which we call “living our life”, like walking straight, not getting bumped into objects or people on our way etc. However when it comes to finding physical routes to particular destinations like your home, we tend to engage our crystallized intelligence, or learned facts e.g. which is the shortest way to home ? or which way is likely to be less crowded? – as simple as it may sound yet another question remains unanswered, at what part of that 15 minute walk did we ask that question to our self?, well, we didn’t and yet another question would be – why is it impossible to recall that specific moment in time, where our mind decided to choose one option over the other from the crystallized intelligence set inside the grey matter. We can’t help but feel as if that questioning part never actually took place and things were just coordinated to begin with inside our brain. Its safe to say that what we are thinking is not entirely correct however its not too further away from the truth either.
So, let’s understand the science behind habit formation and how our brain gets wired to perform certain tasks without the aid of a conscious thought in real time –
The nerve cells (neurons) in our brain which are connected axons to dendrites and dendrites to axons, creates the unparalleled electro-chemical platform upon which our subjective consciousness resides, its not however understood yet in scientific terms how a piece of flesh with some electricity and chemicals give rise to profound subjective emotions, such we are capable of experiencing. A lot of different school of thoughts have been around since early 14th century like Cartesian duality who have delved and made tacit claims to have understood the phenomenon of subjective consciousness but later only to be confined in the history books or philosophical writings at the best, there hasn’t been a theory in the recorded history of human beings that explains the connection with empirical evidence. Now don’t let that stop you from understanding as much as we do know today about the nature of our glorious brain and its workings.
The intricate pathways created by the nerve cells is what connects different parts of our brains and let them interact with each other to perform the electro-chemical cognitive activities required to run the show we call “life”. These neural pathways are designated to carry out a specific function which in turns converts into a message for muscles to do a certain action or exhibit a particular behavior, so what that implies is more we do a certain activity more a specific neural pathway associated with it comes into use and gets stronger over time with repetition, e.g. playing guitar requires us to move our fingers in a certain way over and over again, so with regular practice what we are really doing is – strengthening the neural pathway which is responsible for carrying out finger movements for playing guitar, to put it in simple mathematical terms strength of a neural pathway is directly proportional to the frequency of it being put to use. What’s even more interesting is that our brain finds it easier to connect through the stronger and more frequently traveled pathways versus relatively new ones, even to a point where we can be completely immersed in a conversation while our fingers would move up and down on guitar without a tiniest of thought playing those scales we have mastered through rigorous practice.
When we learn something new we create newer pathways making our consciousness travel a route it has never before in our entire life (given you’re performing a genuinely novel activity) not only that we develop psychologically we also biologically create connections in our brain that didn’t exist prior to those novel acts, in macro world that’s called acquiring knowledge or wisdom in a broad sense however under the microscope you could literally say that you evolved into a better version of yourself. That’s why “first-time” of everything is so remarkably appealing and special to us, the first kiss, first time we fall in love and so many things that we’d run short of space to list them all down.
Well, that is about the habit forming in our brain, but then there is yet another phenomenon which is at the apex of our day to day lives, “situational-habit tendencies”, not only that our brain forms habit it also learns to associate particular situations/objects with habits or rather neural pathways, lets go back to the guitar analogy; so you practiced hard and made rigid connections of neurons that carries out the guitar playing activity physically, there is another concept that your brain learns in the process that is to associate the object guitar with the act of playing. let’s understand this a little clearly – we already understand that if practiced long/frequent enough our fingers could perform guitar playing activity with little conscious focus, i.e. we could be watching t.v or even having a conversation and playing guitar simultaneously. Now another thing to consider is that our brain activates the neural pathway when it confirms the object “guitar” which is associated with the process and then the “situational habit tendency” kicks in because you wouldn’t find your fingers moving up and down unconsciously if you had a hairbrush in your hands instead, well, you could do that but it will be a thoroughly conscious act.
Just like an individual who is afflicted with a chronic nail biting habit, always ends up realizing he is biting down on his nails at a public place somewhere in the middle of the act because the nails are associated in his brain with physical act of biting them down, which also has been practiced and made into a rigid habit and let’s just say its unfortunate that unlike a guitar you can’t leave your nails at home. So, in layman terms what is situational habit tendencies – The typical ways our brain learns to behave in some specific situations to create concepts and habits, which could be used as a set of pre coded instructions, with little or no conscious help from real time thinking or problem solving. It is observed when our brain is multi tasking especially taking care of an important emotional aspect, this phenomenon is engaged profusely.
And remember the walk we went out on ? yes, the walk we took for 15 minutes and kept our brain immersed in the acid tank of our emotions, it was the situational habit tendency that was engaged by our brain to steer our physical body through a familiar route which is based on the theme of your mood, and while all that’s happening simply through a coded situational- habit-tendency , majority of our consciousness was being juiced into quenching the emotional thirst.
To understand how deeply we are affected by these situational-habits through out our life is to alter our perception and start forming intelligent habits because to sum up in one sentence- our motivations, goals, achievements in life are somewhat decided while we begin to code these habits.