Building habits (part 4): the joyful path to lasting change

When it comes to personal development, there’s a common misconception that building habits requires an iron will and unyielding discipline. While discipline can be helpful, it’s not the sole or even the most effective method for creating lasting habits. Forcing yourself to do something is not the recipe for success.

In fact, building habits that stick often requires a healthy dose of enjoyment. When we find something enjoyable, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brain. Dopamine plays a crucial role in building habits and, more broadly, in the process of habit formation.

Here’s how dopamine is involved in the habit-building process.

  1. Reward system activation: Dopamine is closely associated with the brain’s reward system. When you engage in a behaviour that your brain perceives as rewarding or pleasurable, such as eating a delicious meal, completing a task, or achieving a goal, dopamine is released. This release of dopamine creates a positive feeling and reinforces the behaviour, making you more likely to repeat it in the future.
  2. Associative learning: Dopamine helps establish associations between a specific cue or trigger and the reward associated with a behavior. When you engage in a behaviour that is followed by a dopamine release, your brain begins to link the cue or context with the positive feeling of reward. Over time, this association becomes stronger, making it more likely that you will engage in the behaviour when exposed to the same cue or context.
  3. Motivation and desire: Dopamine is involved in motivation and desire. It can increase your drive to pursue goals and engage in activities that you find rewarding. This motivation can be especially helpful when you’re trying to establish new habits, as it can make you more inclined to initiate and stick with them.
  4. Habit loop reinforcement: As a habit forms, it becomes a part of a habit loop, which consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Dopamine plays a central role in this loop by reinforcing the connection between the routine (habit) and the reward. The anticipation of the reward, driven by dopamine, motivates you to perform the habit consistently.
  5. Craving and anticipation: Dopamine is involved in the anticipation of rewards. This means that even before you engage in a habit, your brain may release dopamine in response to the expectation of the reward associated with that habit. This anticipation can drive you to perform the habit to experience the reward, further solidifying the habit.
  6. Habit formation: Over time, as you repeatedly engage in a habit, the release of dopamine becomes increasingly associated with that habit. This makes the habit more ingrained and automatic because your brain has learned to associate the behaviour with a positive outcome (the dopamine release).

To conclude, instead of forcing yourself into doing something that you don’t want to do, find a way to make this change enjoyable. Listen to a podcast while you run or do the dishes, brew your favourite tea while you calculate your taxes, set up a nice table for your meal…

Find the rest of the « building habits » series here.