Anatomy of building & changing habits

There are plenty of ways in which we are able to build and change habits, and this certainly applies in a health and fitness context. But before looking at exactly which methods lend themselves to positively altering our behaviour, it is fruitful to examine the science which goes on behind it. What exactly is happening in our body when we change a habit?

First, let's run through three definitions:

Central nervous system

The central nervous system comprises of the brain and the spinal cord, from which the peripheral nervous system stems.

Neuroplasticity

This refers to the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections as life develops and changes.

Myelination

Neuroplasticity is enabled by myelination - myelin is physically the fatty white substance which surrounds the axon of nerve cells.

So, when we change habits on the inside, myelination refers to what happens when these connections occur, which gradually become stronger connections. The myelin forms a surrounding layer, or coating, to the 'electrical wire' of the axons, which comes out from each individual cell. This keeps the signal around the wire - therefore, the thicker the myelin, the quicker the signal moves, the less myelin, the slower the signal, and the less accurate the behaviour.

With this in mind, it is simple to see how repetition can help developing habits through repetition. As we repeat behavioural patterns, an increasing amount of myelin begins to form around the axons we talked about earlier. That has the effect of refining and improving the behaviour over a period of time.

So as you can see - changing habits is not a fortunate process as such. With each action, there is a scientific process which happens within the body, which can enable us to change our behaviour and consistently refine and improve it. This can act as an incentive to those with health and fitness goals; if you change your behaviour for the better, your body will physically adjust to what it is being asked to do.

Could you benefit from this information in bite-size video form? No problem, watch our video version above.

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