Habit Creation w/ Neurochemicals 🧠
Start achieving more by understanding your brain states!
Dr. Andrew Huberman is a Standford Neuroscientist I learn things from almost daily.
Recently, he broke down what part of your day is the best time to add a new habit or routine into your schedule based on your brain chemistry.
Today, we’re going to break these down so you can start to apply them to your own habits & routine this year!
The process that Dr. Huberman talks about is something he calls “Task Bracketing” which means mapping your habits to brain states, not times.
This is important because Neuroscience research in this area has shown that STATE, not TIME is more important for habit formation!
Our physiology has a huge impact on our state, as we’ve talked about in this blog many times!
This means different levels of neurochemicals create different states of being, like happy, sad, angry, etc.
That being said, there are 3 broad phases of the day, and in each of these phases, there are different levels of these brain chemicals naturally.
We will use this knowledge to map out these phases & their brain chemicals so that you can start to pair the habit you're trying to create with the state necessary for it to stick!
The 3 Phases of the Day
Big picture you can think of these as morning, afternoon & night time.
If you want to get more specific, Phase 1 is 0-8hrs after waking, Phase 2 is 9-14hrs after waking, and Phase 3 is 15-24hrs after waking.
In each of these slots, we have different levels of 4 specific neurochemicals, Dopamine, Noradrenaline, Seratonin & Cortisol.
Let’s break these down before we get into what habits go where!
This is a neurochemical most people are familiar with by now, but it’s worth reminding you of some of its primary functions!
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical, it helps improve issues like stress, anxiety, functional depression, sleep, and many others.
In relation to habits, Dopamine helps make the new pathway we are creating in our brain feel rewarding!
This chemical is also called Norepinephrine and is a neurotransmitter & and hormone!
It is part of your sympathetic nervous system, which controls the “fight-or-flight” response.
Norepinephrine increases alertness, arousal, and attention. In relation to habits, this means it increases motivation & drive!
Seratonin helps regulate things like mood, sleep, digestion, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, and sexual desire.
When this is in your brain you feel a sense of calm, peace, and relaxation! This will be important for Phase 2 of the day!
Finally, cortisol, sometimes referred to as the stress chemical helps us get into action!
This works closely with Noradrenaline during the fight or flight response!
When your cortisol levels are high, it’s easier to get into action and initiate something.
It is generally highest in the morning because it’s one of the chemicals that wakes you from sleep.
Beating Limbic Friction
Now that we know some of the neurochemicals we’ll be watching for, we need to understand which ones are present in our brains during each of the 3 phases of the day.
This is important because as you try to create new habits, your #1 enemy is something called “Limbic Friction.”
Limbic friction is that feeling or voice of resistance you have in your head when you’re trying to get yourself to do a new habit!
Things like brushing your teeth have low limbic friction, meaning it takes much less activation energy to execute that habit.
Newer habits or routines have higher limbic friction making them harder to get up and go do at first.
Different chemical states of the brain change how easy or hard it is to beat this limbic friction!
Phases & Brain Chemicals
Phase 1 (0-8hrs after wake)
During Phase 1 of the day Dopamine, Noradrenaline & Cortisol are at some of their highest peaks.
Cortisol is the chemical that literally wakes you up out of sleep, and is at its highest 90mins after waking up!
This combo of chemicals is the perfect cocktail for beating limbic friction.
Viewing sunlight, exercising, caffeine, and eating foods with tyrosine in them are all great ways to boost this chemical state.
This phase is the best place to put in new habits & routines because the brain chemicals active will make it much easier for you to beat any of the resistance you might feel.
Even if it’s not a new habit, but just one that you struggle with, Phase 1 is the best place to put it!
Phase 2 (9-14hrs after wake)
In Phase 2, Dopamine, Noradrenaline & Cortisol start to decrease.
This means beating limbic friction becomes harder in Phase 2.
The other chemical active in Phase 2 is serotonin, during this phase its levels start to rise putting you into a relax/calm state of being.
A lot of the people I work with report feeling an “energy trough” in the late afternoon, this is in part created by this shifting of brain chemicals.
This is a great portion of the day to do things like meditation, NSDR, saunas, learning, journalling, art, & more relaxing/mellow activities.
Phase 3 (15-24hrs after wake)
This phase should be mostly comprised of sleep!
Dopamine, Noradrenaline & Cortisol are at their lowest, and Seratonin & Melatonin help you drift off to sleep.
This makes this phase the hardest phase to install new habits because of how low Dopamine, Noradrenaline & Cortisol are.
This phase is where all of the work, learning, & habit creation you did in the first 2 phases get locked in!
Keeping overhead lights turned down or off, lowering your body temperature, & stopping eating 90min before bed are all great ways to maintain this pre-sleep chemical state!
Using This Knowledge
Alright, now that we’ve laid down the groundwork, let’s talk about how to USE this knowledge.
I have extensively covered habits on here before! If you haven’t read them already, here are the blogs on habits specifically:
In these, we cover how habits & the brain work, how to create them, and how to destroy ones you don’t like!
Using the tools in these blogs alongside the knowledge of the Brain State Phases we covered today will make you unstoppable!
Habit Execution Process
This is a tool that we didn’t cover in our Habits series and is specifically made for increasing motivation by boosting Dopamine & Noradrenaline!
This is like a limbic friction silver bullet.
Here’s the process:
Identify the habit/task
Write out the steps, thoughts, & feelings you’ll go through 10-15mins before the habit
Write out the steps, thoughts, & feelings you’ll go through 10-15mins after the habit
Visualize the whole Task Bracket in your mind, the 15mins before, the task/habit & the 15mins after
When thinking about before, think about leaning into the effort of beating the limbic friction
When thinking about after, imagine the positive feeling you’ll have after
DON’T LIE TO YOURSELF! Your brain is smart, it knows when you’re lying to it, so be as honest as possible.
For example, thinking, “I hate starting, but love finishing!”
The goal here is to reward the entire bracket, not just the habit or task itself.
Over time, you will start to feel more excited and positive about the habit or task you are using the process for, making it much easier to beat the limbic friction attach to it.
I hope this information serves you well on your journey.
I will see you right back here next week, until then… Live Heroically! 🧠