Why are habits instinctive?

Kate Myerson
Nutrition & Dietetics

I agree, habits feel instinctive because they have become so ingrained in our routine. Fortunately we can change habits with focus and practice. For example, maybe I am a fast eater because I learned this habit as a child, I can slow down but it is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take reminding myself everyday to slow down until that habit becomes routine. 

Habits only feel instinctive or like "second nature" because of well-used communication pathways in the brain. Habits essentially are behavior patterns that become worn in the brain like ruts in a dirt road. As the brain communicates the body's actions, impulses fire across the synapses, or spaces between cells. When a behavior is repeated often enough, the pathways associated with communicating that pattern get used to being accessed, making it easier for the impulses to travel. That's why a morning routine of jogging, showering and having breakfast feels automatic after a few weeks. That's also what makes habits hard to break: Once those behavior pathways are established, they never disappear. Even if they aren't accessed in a while, they can be reactivated easily.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.