Habit Re-engineering: Amazing truth on how to build/break one!

First you get a habit and then the habit gets you!

Posted by Apoorva Patil on June 05, 2016

Habits!! A term which is usually referred to bad-ones or so called bad-habits as compared to good-ones. A habit is something which you repeatedly did so many times and reached a point where ‘not-doing it’ is so much more difficult than doing it! In other words, doing that something has become absolutely effortless or automatic!

Someone quoted it so nicely as “first you get a habit and then the habit gets you”.

`Habit Re-engineering can be simply put as, replacing a so called bad-habit with a good one. The science behind doing so is absolutely amazing. Recent studies have discovered a property of the brain called ‘neuro-plasticity’ which is at the core of building or breaking a habit.

Neuro plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to undergo small-to-drastic changes throughout the life a human being or an animal. Until the latter half of the 20th century, it was believed that the brain develops during a critical period in early childhood then remains relatively unchangeable afterward. Recent studies have proved that many aspects of the brain remain changeable (plastic) even into adulthood.

The concept of synaptic pruning states that, individual connections within the brain are constantly being removed or created depending upon how they are used. Hebbian theory puts it as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together / neurons that fire apart, wire apart”. Merzenich’s (1984) study involved the amputation of the third digit of an owl monkey. Before amputation, there were five distinct areas in brain, one corresponding to each digit (finger) of the experimental hand. After 62 days of amputation, the area formerly occupied by third digit had been invaded by previously adjacent second and fourth digit zones.

Its NOT about 21-days

This study not only proves that the brain can take any form depending on how it is repeatedly used but also shows it roughly takes two months to install a new habit, contrary to the infamous 21-days rule of installing a new habit.

If the brain is a computer then habits are software programs which direct it to perform particular action at a particular time. So what do you do if you want your computer to perform a new action? You simply uninstall the old software n replace it with a new one!

A habit is nothing but the brain’s internal map or program which tells it, 'what to do' and 'when to do' it. This what to do is closely tied with the time of the day during which it is done.

The major difference between a computer and the brain is that, in computer you can uninstall old software without necessarily installing a new-one in its place. But when it comes to brain, you can never uninstall an old program (habit) without installing a new-one in its place. In fact you can’t directly uninstall a habit and then place a new one in its place. The process is exactly reverse! You can get rid of the old-habit only by overriding it with a new one.

For example, let’s say, you have a habit of being couch potato and watching TV when you return from work. But you are thinking to replace that habit with the habit of hitting the gym and working out for an hour, after observing the increasing diameter of your belly. In this scenario, you can’t sit idle and wait for the old habit to go away so that you can start a new healthy habit in its place. What you can do is, fight against the extreme gravitational pull of your couch every single day and hit the gym until the day it becomes effortless or in other words a new habit.


The above scenario demonstrates that, no task is difficult in and itself. Objectively, sitting on the couch for an hour takes the same effort as working out in the gym. But which one is easier than the other is purely subjected to how long and regularly you do it.

This phenomenon applies to everything in life. It is the only difference between successful people and the others. Some of the most important and proven success-habits are the ones like, getting up at 5 A.M, exercising regularly, delaying gratification, spending time & money wisely, getting rid of procrastination etc., The successful people have developed these success-habits, whereas others have not. Period.