Habits of Mind by Judy Bond

We are creatures of habit it is said. Some of these habits are useful and some not so useful. To establish new habits and get rid of old ones it is helpful to realize that habits have three components. Typically there is a cue, we behave in our habitual way, and there is some reward/reinforcer for doing the habit. Indeed, we initially started the behavior to experience the reinforcer. Having it done this often enough (three weeks for something you do daily) the behavior has become a habit that we automatically perform when the cue arrives. It is useful to look at your physical and mental habits and should you wish to change them, figure out what are the three components in a behavior for you.

An example of a physical behavior: Fastening your seat belt in a car
cue: a buzzer sounds
behavior: you fasten your seat belt
reward/reinforcer: the annoying buzzer stops

Another example: Eating
cue: could be your stomach growling, could be the time of day, could be a feeling of anxiety
behavior: eating
reinforcer/reward : satisfaction if your stomach was empty, or social aspect of hanging out with coworkers at noon or
comfort maybe if you are feeling anxious. There is no right answer, as the rewards come in varioous ways, depending on the stimulus and the particular environment.

So in the case of eating for comfort rather than hunger one asks what behavior could you perform that would that would bring comfort but not calories…

An example of a mental habit:
cue: body sits down with nothing mentally taxing to do
behavior that happens: mind wanders off
reinforcer: what is so rewarding about thinking that makes us do it again and again until it becomes a very ingrained habit? Something to ask yourself….

So in the case of mind wandering once you figure out what the reward/reinforcer is for you, what will the reward/reinforcer be if you switch the behavior to training the mind to be present for the sensual experience of breathing say, when you get the cue?

Neuroscientists call this wandering mind the default mode and the parts of the brain that are involved, the default mode network. Click on the title below: “I Think, Therefore I Am (Unhappy)” to see a review of the research on the DMN and the impact of meditation.

The default mode and default mode network of our mind and brain are one of the most substantial mental habits we have for better and mostly worse.

Here’s a good review article on the neuroscience literature about the DMN and how meditation can change a habit.




One thought on “Habits of Mind by Judy Bond

  1. I enjoyed that…that’s helpful even when it’s not a habit, but a knee-jerk response. Yes, when my upstairs neighbor began repeatedly clicking his electric on and off last night, with the circuitry making loud banging noises, right as I dozed off, I waited. It eventually stopped, but in late and up early with the same noise. So, it wasn’t knee jerk, but carefully reasoned. I shut my electric off…shouldn’t be shutting his off, and it worked like a charm…if we’re double-metered, I should not be footing his bill…

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