Andrew Huberman on How To Develop and Maintain Habits with Simple Mental Exercises

Date: September 26th, 2022
Author: Billie Bradshaw

Habits are a big part of who we are. It's estimated that up to 70% of our waking behavior is made up of habitual behavior. Habits are learned in the brain and are characterized by changes in the connections between neurons.

There are a lot of ideas on how long it takes for a habit to develop. Some say it's 21 days, some say 18, some say 30, some say 60. So which is it? does it depend on the habit? Or the person? Studies have shown that it can take as few as 18 days to as many as 254 days depending on the individual.

It's important to be in the right state to be able to develop good habits (or break harmful habits). Watch the full video to see everything Andrew recommends in order to develop the best habits for our lives.

habits are things that our nervous system learned but not always consciously sometimes we develop habits that we're not even aware of until they become a problem or maybe they serve us well who knows but the fact of the matter is that 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 so we've got habits we have that habits are learned we have that learning involves neuroplasticity and that neuroplasticity involves changes in the connections between neurons another thing that you'll hear out there in the literature is that 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 form the habit it turns out that there's excellent peer review data on this 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 the reason i bring this up is that i always get asked is it true that it takes 21 days to form a habit is it true that your nervous system changes in six days when you're doing something repeatedly and the answer is as i mentioned before it's highly variable what i didn't tell you actually was what specific habit they were looking at in that lally study and it's interesting that the specific behavior was a health related behavior it's pretty relevant to our discussion here on the podcast which was taking walks after dinner there's actually a really nice literature showing that walks after a meal can speed glucose clearance from the bloodstream can be beneficial for not just weight loss but cardiovascular health etc so a walk after dinner seems pretty straightforward right well in order to form that habit it took some people 18 days and other people 254 days how did they know when they formed the habit well they were doing it about 85 percent of the time and they also reported not having to spend that much mental effort in order to get into the mode of taking a walk after dinner so for those of you listening some of you might be thinking i can't believe that it takes some people 254 days to get into that habit but as i said 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 the mystery of why certain people can form certain habits more easily than others probably has something to do with how well people manage what's called limbic friction now limbic friction is not a term that you're going to find in the formal neurobiological literature or even psychological literature it's frankly a term that i coined to encompass a number of different pieces of the psychology and neuroscience literature limbic friction is a shorthand way that i use to describe the strain that's required in order to overcome one of two states within your body one state is one of anxiousness where you're really anxious and therefore you can't calm down you can't relax and therefore you can't engage in some particular activity or thought pattern that you would like the other state is one in which you're feeling too tired or lazy or not motivated both of those states feeling too alert and too calm if you will relate to the function of the so-called autonomic nervous system a set of neurons and hormones and chemicals in your brain and body that act as sort of a seesaw you're either alert or calm you're either asleep or stressed those two states are not compatible with one another you've probably heard of wired and tired but that's really once you've been very stressed for a long time to the point where you're exhausted what does the autonomic nervous system have to do with any of this well limbic friction is a phrase that can be used to describe how much effort how much activation energy you need in order to engage in a particular behavior so using this lolli study as an example some people would eat dinner and then say oh that's right i'm trying to develop the habit of taking a walk after dinner so let's get up and go other people will feel like i just don't want to do it today they're going to feel too much limbic friction and that limbic friction could arrive again from one of two sources it could be because they are too tired to do it or it could be because they're too anxious and distracted in order to do it the goal of any habit that we want to form is to get into what's called automaticity automaticity is fancy language for the neural circuits can perform it automatically and that's the ultimate place to be right if you have all these goals and things that you want to be doing on a regular basis you'd love for them to be habitual because it takes less mental and physical effort less limbic friction in order to execute those and so much of what's out there again in the popular psychology literature in books that you'll find on the bookstore shelf and on amazon and the airports are about how to get from that mode of high degree of limbic friction to automaticity a simple visualization exerciser it doesn't even have to be done eyes closed you know oftentimes we hear visualization exercise you think about sitting in the lotus position eyes closed and trying really hard to visualize something it 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 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 just one mental exercise of thinking through what are the sequence of steps required in order to perform this habit from start to finish can shift the likelihood of being able to perform that habit from unlikely or to moderately likely to very likely over time and that's because it pulls from this process that involves our hippocampus and our neocortex and other areas of our brain and nervous system that engage in procedural memory it shifts the brain towards a mindset if you will it's more of a neural circuit set it would be more accurate but a mindset neural circuit set of doing things in a particular sequence which allows that limbic friction to come down and increases the likelihood that we're going to perform that thing simple tool but very powerful tool according to the psychology literature