The arrival of a new year often brings about a desire to form healthier habits - a good place to start, perhaps, is examining where your habits came from in the first place.
“When you engage in behaviours or sequences of behaviours, often they begin to recruit parts of the brain that require less attention and less mental energy, so that in effect allows those behaviours to become habits,” explains Dr. Fournier, assistant professor in Trent’s Psychology department.
A common bad habit involves overindulging on sweets, which can be a tricky vice to kick because of how your brain views sugar.
“Our brain utilizes sugars in the form of glucose as its main food source – we have been programmed through evolution to like sugar foods,” notes Professor Fournier, explaining that when you eat sugary food it stimulates the reward centers of your brain, leading to the release of a dopamine, a chemical that helps to reinforce behaviours and form habits.
Our desire for sugar (and other vices) has only appeared to increase since the onset of the pandemic.
“Data shows higher rates of consuming alcohol, binging on TV shows, eating sugary foods, online shopping– those have been fueled and increased a lot due to the pandemic,” Prof. Fournier explains.
If you’re looking to create better, more healthy habits, you can create them in the same way as those indulgent vices, through repetition.
“The more you repeat an action the more it becomes hard wired in the circuitries in the brain,” says Prof. Fournier. “That same process that led to bad habits can lead to good habits.”