Bayside City Skippycoin ICG

Bayside City



Community, Business and Visitor City Information

Habit Loops and Anxiety

The Mind, Art by Kim Henenberg

Habit Loops, Worry and Anxiety

Neuroscientist Judson A. Brewer describes the Habit Loop as:

Trigger>Behaviour>Outcome (Reward or Relief)

Habit loops allow us to do things unconsciously, so we don't have to re-learn the same things every minute of every day. Like walking, or getting dressed. But sometimes they get us stuck, so that we stop learning, where learning and growing would be very helpful.

The way a habit loop is established is when something external (eg a situation) or internal (eg thoughts or emotions), either good or bad, triggers an urge to enact a certain behaviour. The behaviour might be scratching, nail-biting, scrolling social media, anxiousness/ anxious thoughts, eating delicious food, etc.

In an attempt to achieve relief from the burning desire of an urge, we enact behaviours without thinking. A simple example is scratching a mosquito bite.

But another example might be worrying about getting everything done.

These behaviours usually lead to short-term relief (or at least a result). For instance, the itching sensation is briefly soothed.

Or, in the second example, the worrying has the effect of feeling like we're problem-solving when overwhelmed by a huge list of tasks.

But in the long-term, these behaviours only lead to future enactment of the same behaviours. Which short-circuits any action that will lead to long-term relief or a desired outcome.

A mosquito bite left alone will eventually go away; much more quickly than if we aggravate it.

Worrying about getting everything done might feel like getting organised or holding yourself accountable, but more likely will cause procrastination and inaction: more worry.

Habits like self-soothing with junk food or scrolling the internet, or any unhelpful behaviour, can be viewed in the same way.

A negative habit loop can be established by seeking soothing distraction in response to anxious feelings, or laid down in the form of a continuous cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings like worry or rumination on the past.

In the former, the trigger might be an anxious feeling, or an upsetting situation. This spurns a desire to do something to distract ourselves - the behaviour. The outcome is temporary relief from anxiety. Unfortunately, the anxiety will just come back after the distraction is removed. Triggering a repeating loop, and habitual behaviour. Like the pleasure of eating chocolate biscuits wearing off, leading to eating more.

In the case of anxious worry or rumination, a single thought can be a trigger. Worry or rumination is an attempt to problem-solve as a way to get rid of the original thought by thinking. A behaviour that usually leads to an outcome of heightened anxiety and stress: a habitual loop constantly being reinforced.

What to do instead; how to break the loop: mind training.

The Mind, Art by Kim Henenberg

The short answer is that habitual patterns you've developed can be changed with your own curiosity.

Mindfulness practices can foster this curiosity.

The first step is to pick up these high-speed responses as they are occurring, so that you have an awareness of the process itself. It can be completely unconscious, so even noticing after the fact is a great start. Then it begins to become more and more obvious what our own particular habit loops are.

It's important to pay attention to these Trigger>Behaviour>Outcome loops without judgement, but with an impartial, investigative approach, like a scientist. If you start criticising yourself for maladaptive habit loops, you will likely just increase anxiety and shut down curiosity.

Every habit loop was established for a reason, and it may have been adaptive at a certain time in your life but is no longer working.

Trying to work out why that particular habit loop was established can lead to more looping rumination. Curiosity in the present moment, focusing on what is going on is key.

As soon as we become aware of a pattern, we gain an element of agency and choice. We can choose alternatives, even if just to delay the action before giving in.

Awareness of a habit loop, in particular the outcome, can foster disenchantment with the results of our behaviour and a greater objectivity.

When we create that breathing space, we can get curious and investigate what is really going on.

The Mind, Art by Kim Henenberg

Curiosity is the opposite of anxiety and rigidity. It's open and flexible. If you are curious and exploratory, it is unlikely that anxiety will coexist for very long, if at all.

Certainly, if you feel in any given situation that your urge is best pursued, you can make that decision consciously. And then the thing is to enact the behaviour in a more conscious way and pay attention to the outcome. Notice what you're actually getting from it.

If you can do that with self-compassion and a sense of understanding why you're doing it (because it's a Habit Loop!), and really noticing the effects of the behaviour, you are setting yourself up for future improvement by remaining open and flexible, not closed, and rigid.

Every time you behave in a conscious way, you are making a choice and taking control - gaining agency. The more you practise, and the more disenchantment you find in an old habitual behaviour, the more appeal there will be in exploring alternatives to habit loops with curiosity and flexibility.

The more you experiment with substituting alternative behaviours, the more they will stick: especially if the outcome is improved. Thereby establishing and implementing a positive habit loop.

If you would like help with shifting from old habit loops to new ones, please contact me at kalkihenenberg@gmail.com

The Habit Loop phenomenon has been researched and written about extensively by Dr. Judson Brewer and I highly recommend his work for further reading.

Visit my

Please Like and Share this article

To distribute this article more widely

Paste it to your Social Media Groups and Town Forums, Thanks

To manage this article or write your own article simply LOGIN

Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes Bayside City
Download This Photo