Chunking Habits

This week I came across an instagram article by The New Yorker about a habit formation term called “chunking”. Chunking sounds like a  verb made up out of a noun. The article goes on to say our brain uses “chunking” to make living in our environment easy.

For example, our brain “chunks” all the following actions into one habit GET IN CAR AND GO:

unlocking car, opening door, sitting down, putting on seat belt, starting car, looking out rearview mirror, backing up, shifting gears, using break and gas pedals, steering car, checking traffic.

We become aware these unconscious actions exist as a habit when some of the actions need to be updated. Like having to use a key fob instead of an actual key for the new car. We keep trying to put our key in the lock until our primitive brain adds the key fob action to the GET IN CAR AND GO “chunked” habit.

Our unconscious primitive brain is sublimely elegant at “chunking” habit feedback loops. These loops are wonderfully described by Charles Duhigg in “The Power of Habit” as cue – action – reward. The brain builds habits so repetitive actions become easy and are rewarded each time!

Biology uses easy to survive. Our brain is designed to transform effort into easy. This saves us energy, increasing our survivability. We live because of persistent, robust feedback loops in our cells. Feedback loops are free of friction and happen over and over until we die. Essential processes like oxygenation, nutrition, and hydration are comprised of grouping or “chunking” feedback loops throughout our body to keep every cell alive and well.

Messing with our oxygenation, hydration and nutritional feedback loops can lead to organ damage or death. Smoking habits lead to COPD and cancer.  Alcoholism habits damage the liver and kidneys. We are now learning that poor nutritional habits can lead to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, mental illness, neurological disorders, immune diseases and overall poor quality of life.

I have screwed up my nutritional feedback loops by layering bad habits over biologically constructed feedback loops which tell me when I am in need of nutrition, when to stop eating, and how much fat I need to store or burn. 

I have practiced my bad nutritional habits so much they are now persistent, robust and frictionless. They override my body’s normal feedback loops and keep extra fat on my body.

So, if I want to undo my habits?

I need to create new habits to override my bad

  • shopping habits
  • cooking habits
  • dining out habits
  • food storage habits
  •  meal eating habits

This week I picked apart my food shopping habits.

My habit has been to stop by a grocery store 3-4 times a week giving my primitive brain lots of chances to habitually buy food I do not need. Now I only shop once a week with my shopping buddy, a shopping list, so I do not buy chips, dessert, and bread.

But that little voice in my head still screams to stop every time I pass a grocery store after work and basically every time I am in the car outside of my house!

See that little green me in the car? She will get bigger every time I drive by without stopping:) Because it IS easier to not stop! Stopping to shop costs me money, time, effort, and helps me gain weight.

By the way I need to mention how happy and warm inside it makes me to see all the people at work eating healthier and even losing weight! I’m not sure this blog is making a difference but leveling up everyone’s awareness about the fact that we are what we eat is! Way to go everyone:)



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