As simple as it might sound to start a healthy new habit, adding something new to our routine can actually be really challenging. This is because our habits and our motivations are controlled by different brain systems. The system in control of our habits can operate without any input from our conscious awareness and isn’t particularly interested in our long-term goals. Luckily, by understanding a little bit about how our habitual system works, we can identify some clever tricks for creating good habits that will allow us to reach our long-term goals. Although many studies show improvements after only a few red light treatments, to experience the full spectrum of benefits that red light therapy offers, you have to use your Lux Personal device regularly. Now let’s take a look at how we can make your habitual system work for you.
All habits begin as behaviors that are first learned using the goal-directed system. The goal-directed system cares about our behaviors, their outcomes, and the value of these outcomes. Whenever we do something that is rewarding, our brains try to learn how to predict the circumstances that preceded the rewarding behavior so it can make sure we do it again. For instance, imagine the first time you woke up in the morning and had a cup of coffee. Your brain recognized that coffee in the morning made you feel good and took note of the conditions that preceded that good feeling. So the next time you get out of bed in the morning, the goal-directed system says, “Remember last time? Maybe you should do that again.”
Over time and with enough repetition, the brain transfers the behavior from the goal-directed system to the habitual system. Once the behavior is habitual, we don’t have to think about making a cup of coffee in the morning anymore, we just do it. Waking up becomes the cue that triggers the coffee-making behavior. The habitual system is very different from the goal-directed system in that it only cares about the behavior and the stimulus that triggers it, not the reward or the goal. This is why changing or creating habits can be so challenging because this system can operate on its own accord without any conscious input from us. You might notice the power of the habitual system when it comes to using social media. Maybe you only grabbed your phone to check the time, but all of sudden you’ve spent 20 minutes on Facebook without even thinking about it. In this instance, the cue was holding your phone and the behavior it triggered was checking social media, whether you consciously wanted to or not.
Evolutionarily, this transfer of behavioral control from the goal-directed system to the habitual system has been a useful trick because the habitual system requires less brainpower to operate. Conscious control takes a lot of energy, so we can get much more done in a day if some of our behaviors are offloaded onto the system that is energetically cheaper to run. The downside to offloading repeated behaviors to the habitual system is that this system isn’t very flexible and habitual behaviors are not easily learned or unlearned. However, thanks to science, we know that habits are formed through repeated behaviors that are valuable or rewarding and that they are elicited unconsciously by the appropriate cue. With this information, we can infer a few ways to hack our habitual system and introduce new good behaviors, like taking time for red-light therapy.
1. Repetition and Persistence
This is probably the most difficult and most obvious suggestion, but it is scientifically sound. Behaviors are only transferred to the habitual system after a LOT of repetition. So, if you forget to use your device a couple of times, don’t give up. It just takes some time.
2. Treat yourself
Before a new behavior can become a habit, it must begin in the goal-directed system. We know that this system responds to the value of behavior, so if taking a moment to care for yourself isn’t rewarding enough, try treating yourself every time you use your red light device.
3. Embed cues
We know that the habitual system responds to behavioral cues, so one way to jump-start your new habit is to embed the new behavior into an existing cue. In other words, think of something you already do regularly and then use that as the cue for the habit you are trying to create. In the case of adding red light to your routine, try using it after an activity that you already do regularly, like brushing your teeth. Then, brushing your teeth becomes the cue that triggers your impulse to use your red light device. Another way to do this is to set up reminders for yourself. Create a new cue through a reminder
you set on your phone or notes that you leave to yourself.
Red light is an amazing tool that can have lasting beneficial effects on our health and wellbeing, especially when used consistently and regularly. Introducing another behavior into our daily routine can be challenging, we might forget to use it or feel like it’s hard to find the time for it, but with a few clever tricks, using red-light can become a habit our bodies will thank us for.
All information sourced from:
Gasbarri, A., Pompili, A., Packard, M. G., & Tomaz, C. (2014). Habit learning and memory in mammals: Behavioral and neural characteristics. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory , 114 , 198–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2014.06.010