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How to Reprogram Your Brain Like a Computer And Hack Your Habits

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How to Reprogram Your Brain Like a Computer And Hack Your Habits

Do you struggle with overcoming bad habits? Do you find it difficult to stick with an exercise routine and constantly find yourself back where you started?

If so, what would you think if I told you that you could reprogram your brain and break bad habits similar to how a computer programmer programs code? Sounds crazy right? Yet, it’s not.

Similar to programming computer code, it is possible to reprogram deeply ingrained habits. Computer coding is a perfect metaphor for writing, hacking, or reprogramming our own instructions. We see this when we compare computer coding to habit formation. Think of trying to break bad habits and form new positive habits. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit remarked,

What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure – that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change.

So what exactly is computer coding, habit formation, and how can we reprogram our deeply ingrained habits?

What is Coding?

Coding is a finished set of instructions known as a program. We must write a code in a specific way for the program to work. In essence, we must write code in a language for which a computer can understand it. Many different computer languages exist, such as: HTML5, CSS, C, C++, Python, and JavaScript.

Think of our life as a finished set of instructions. In order to reprogram it, we must write our own code in a way that will change our bad habits. Essentially, we must find a reward system our mind and body can latch on to.

Vomputer code is similar to human DNA and it operates exactly like the code in computer software. Juan Enriquez informs us,[1]

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Sequencing DNA decodes its programmatic intentions through its relationship to a combination of four letters of our alphabet: A, C, T, and G.

DNA is a self-replicating material present in all living life-forms and carries our genetic information. Tom Bunzel demonstrates the similarities in his book DNA is Software, Who “Wrote” the Code?  by placing a sequenced genetic code side by side with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which is the code for a web page.

    Coding as a Metaphor for Writing Instructions for Life

    My intent here is not to ask who or what wrote our life code (or even how it is done). My intent is to demonstrate that computer programming language (code) is a metaphor for life. The computer program is our life, where the computer code is our habits.

      We can change our habits and switch genes off and on through epigenetics. We know that contemporary geneticists are able to switch genes on and off using DNA internal software. Essentially, they are copying and pasting code.[2]

      Moreover, coding is writing instructions for computers, where a finished set of instructions is a computer program. Life is no different. Just as coding is writing instructions for a computer, our daily actions and habits are writing instructions for life. Learning to code will create a better computer program, so why not learn your code to build a better you?

      Coding (Habit Breaking) Instructions

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        Charles Duhigg writes that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop” which is a three-part process.[3]

        First, we find the cue or trigger informing our brain to go into automatic mode. Second, we identify the routine, which is the behavior itself. Third, we identify the reward, which is the thing that makes our brain remember the “habit loop” in the future.

        Let’s examine how Duhigg used the “habit loop” to break his habit of going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie every afternoon.

          Step 1: Identify the routine

          Similar to understanding the structure and components of computer code, Duhigg writes that we must first understand the components of our loop.

          Step 2: Experiment with rewards

          We use specific inputs when we code, so why not change the inputs to see if we get a different output. Similarly, Duhigg experimented with his reward by adjusting his routine to see if it would deliver a different type of reward. For example, instead of walking to the cafeteria, he walked around the block.

          Step 3: Isolate the cue

          Duhigg says that we can ask ourselves (and record our answers) five things the moment an urge hits us in order to diagnose our habit. These questions are key to hacking our code (habits).

          1. Where are you?
          2. What time is it?
          3. What’s your emotional state?
          4. Who else is around?
          5. What action preceded the urge?

          Step 4: Have a plan

          Duhigg found once we figure out our “habit loop” we can shift our behavior. This is similar to rewriting code.

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          “Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.” – Charles Duhigg

          Following Duhigg’s advice, we can reprogram or hack our code (habits) by actively making choices. We do this by making plans and a great strategy for this is through implementation intentions.

          If-Then Strategy

          An “If-Then” strategy is no different than computer language. IF you write a code, THEN you will get an output.

          This is where the computer coding // human life metaphor makes the most sense to me. For example, let’s first imagine we are born as a blank smartphone.

            Now let’s visualize two different outputs for a sprite or image on our phone (representing us). This image represents two possibilities for our future life. We can become a healthy and fit person or we can become an overweight and depressed person.

              We must learn to code or write instructions in order to become the healthy and fit person. Essentially, we must learn to reprogram (or code) our life.

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              We can write instructions for our finished program (our life). I have identified specific instructions coded for my life in the image below. These instructions can also be imagined as habits.

              Let’s examine some of the larger blocks of code I have built (where the output has created a healthy and fit person): morning routine, exercise, nutrition, water, knowledge, education, family, spirituality, and employment.

                Essentially, IF we following a morning routine, we can THEN jump start a healthy morning workout.

                IF we exercise, hydrate and eat right, we can THEN look and feel better.

                IF we strive to improve our knowledge and experience a close relationship with our family, THEN we can live a happy and healthy life.

                  More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

                  Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

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                  Reference

                  More by this author

                  Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                  Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                  Last Updated on January 27, 2022

                  5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

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                  5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

                  The environment of a typical office or a quiet library may sometimes lessen your productivity as the unchanging views fail to stimulate your senses and keep your brain running. If you are the kind that dislikes absolute silence or minimal noise when working, these unexpected places to work may boost your productivity level!

                  1. Coffee shops

                  Research has shown that an adequate amount of ambient noise stimulates your senses and keeps you alert. Where else better to find some chatter and clatter to boost your creative juices? Working in the coffee shop also guarantees something else: unlimited supplies of caffeine!

                  Caffeine wakes you up by fooling adenosine receptors and speeds transmitting activities up in your nerve cells.If you do decide to try this place out, make sure that your work computer is facing the coffee shop customers so you will be less likely to procrastinate or go to inappropriate sites because people are secretly watching you.

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                  If your workplace requires you to be in the office, try this website and/or phone app that provides you with sounds from coffee shops around the world. Want to work at a cafe in Paris? No problem, it’s just a button away.

                  2. Cafeterias

                  Similar to coffee shops, company cafeteria or food courts provide consistent noise and the smell of food. The aroma of food makes you look forward to your next break and should motivate you to complete your work.

                  The act of eating likewise keeps your brain alert and produces dopamine. But make sure only to snack and stay around 60% full so that each bite is rewarding and invigorating. Snacking every 90 minutes should keep your brain balanced enough to focus on the work at hand.

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                  3. Empty University Classrooms  

                  Whether or not you’re an university student, we have all been a student at some point in our lives. And when you’re in a classroom, your brain is primed to stay focused because you have been conditioned to concentrate in class. In comparison to your bedroom, where your brain is primed to relax, sleep and have fun, the environment of the classroom triggers your memory to stay alert (unless you never listened in class) and work.

                  If you do decide to try working in an empty university classroom, be sure to bring a studious friend. Once you see that your friend or coworker is working hard, you would feel guilty for procrastinate and be more competitive.

                  Ever heard of environmental context-dependent memory? Research has shown that environmental context influences the way we encode information. If you study in the same place you first learned the material, your chances of recalling the information are significantly increased. Use environmental cues to your advantage so you spend less time doing more work!

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                  4. Outdoors

                  Fresh air, sunlight, cool breeze. Talk about getting your vitamin Ds the natural way. A healthy body is crucial to being productive. If you have a porch, use it to maximize your productivity!

                  On a cool day, the crisp air is good for waking your brain up. If your work station is indoors and poorly ventilated, the build up of carbon dioxide will cause your brain to be less active, hence, less productive. Try to bring some work to a park nearby or an unsheltered town square where you are exposed to the sun. Fresh air will vitalize your brain and the warm sunlight will bring a smile to your face.

                  5. The Shower 

                  Many people experience their “Aha!” moments when they’re in the shower. Why is that? The hot water helps with circulation and improves blood flow to your brain, giving it more oxygen and nourishment to break down your work block.

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                  If you aren’t motivated to work or feeling bored, a good shower will not only open up your pores, but also give your brain a boost of energy. Keep a waterproof white board and markers in the washroom so you will never lose those wonderful ideas again!

                  Featured photo credit: Thomas Franke via unsplash.com

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