The problem with habits is the brain. The brain - particularly the conscious thinking part of our brains - consumes a significant amount of energy. The way evolution dealt with this problem was to make sure that the brain would ramp down whenever it could to conserve energy - a bit like our computers do when they go into sleep mode. They aren't entirely off, but less power is required.
The way the brain does that is by rapidly forming habits- automatic routines that require no conscious thought. Most of what each of us does very day is by habit. If we had to do everything, every day be learning for the first time, life as we know it would be impossible. The problems is that when a habit is established, it goes from being a conscious thought in the frontal cortex to being an automatic sequence based in a much more primitive part of our brain - the basal ganglia (Duhigg, 2012).
So, repeating a past strategy is what we are always more likely to do. After all, whatever that strategy was, it must have kept us alive! And for millions of years, this strategy worked. In our evolutionary past, the adaptations we had to make that demanded change were slow in coming, so gradual, incremental change in habits was an effective strategy. It is only in modern times that
That is why it is so very hard to change habits - even problematic habits. The rate of change in the course of our social evolution has steadily increased but our biology cannot even begin to keep up with that pace. The result is that we continue to use strategies that once were highly effective but that now may spell our doom as a species. The technology that we have created far outstrips our capacity to manage the unintended consequences of that technological change. Our effect on the climate is the most problematic result of this. Can we evolve adaptive strategies fast enough to prevent the automatic repetition of the past? That remains an unanswered question.
Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, Random House.
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