Each one of us is on our own path to well-being, and the ability to create healthy, sustainable, and long-lasting habits is essential to our progress. Reaching our goals always starts with the first step but keeping our efforts consistent and remaining determined and motivated will help us move forward in our journey.

Often, many people struggle with creating and maintaining healthy habits because their eyes are set on the end-goal only. It is important to focus on the journey just as much as the destination. Keeping track of the victories we make along the way will increase our mental well-being just as much as reaching our end goals will.

If we stay focused and overcome the mental obstacles that come with forming healthy habits for any amount of time, we will be successful in forming and sustaining our new habits.

Limbic friction – what is it and how do we overcome it?

Andrew Huberman of Stanford University defines limbic friction as: “the energy required to overcome the anxiety, procrastination and/or fatigue, that prevents you from doing the habit-forming activity”. Limbic friction is caused by the release of norepinephrine in our brain, which when released in our body is known as adrenaline. (Link to https://ultraproductive.net/reframing-limbic-friction-how-to-deal-with-strain-during-focused-work/ )

If we want to be able to master the skill of focus, we need to perform certain tasks and create certain habits, and need to reframe the feeling of strain. There are three things we need to remember when overcoming limbic friction. First, actively reminding ourselves that experiencing limbic friction is a sign that our brain wants to solve a problem or create a habit. Second, giving ourselves at least 10-15 minutes to get into our task. Third, dealing with and overcoming limbic friction correctly is self-reinforcing and can increase our mental well-being.

To deal with limbic friction, we need to overcome two mental states, the first being anxiety and the second being procrastination.

Anxiety is the first, and most common, state preventing us from creating new, healthy, and sustainable habits. The fear of failing, doing it ‘wrong’, and heightened alertness around our new habit can make it difficult for us to focus. This state makes it hard for us to relax and remain calm, which in turn makes it hard for the new habit to form.

Procrastination can manifest as being lazy, having low/no motivation and having that “it can be done later” feeling. Procrastination often makes it easy for us to divert our attention away from the habit we are trying to form and rather doing something we might find more enjoyable at the time, such as avoiding going to the gym after work and instead coming home and watching Netflix.

Both anxiety and procrastination are functions of our autonomic nervous system. Hormones and neurons cause these mental states of feeling overly alert or overly calm. Limbic friction is the ability to overcome these states and gather up the energy needed to perform the tasks or healthy habit-forming activities.

We know, easier said than done, right? Give the three steps mentioned at the beginning a try and remember there are ways you can improve your chances of overcoming limbic friction.

Task bracketing – what is it?

When engaging in an activity, our brain often connects what we did before and after the task, essentially creating a ‘bracket’ around the activity itself. As a result of this, our brains will be more prepared and ready for certain behaviours, activities, and habits to take place. An example is stretching and warming up before engaging in exercise.

If we understand that specific actions lead us to perform the activity we are trying to convert into a habit, and we know what those actions are, we can insert new activities into our ‘bracket’ and form lasting and sustainable habits.

It is important to understand the activities that help us overcome limbic friction. Exploring these and understanding them and ourselves is a great place to start on our journey to healthy habit formation.

A phased approach to habit formation

To complete the puzzle that is habit formation, we need to understand that the different phases or times of the day can provide us with more opportunities to create long-lasting habits. The neurochemicals in our brain change throughout the day, making it easier to create different habits at different times of the day.

Our day can be broken down into three 8-hour phases, each containing their own benefits for habit formation and preferences for certain activities.

Phase 1:

In the first 8 hours after we wake up, our dopamine levels are at their highest. This allows us to be more action-orientated, focused and is the easiest phase in which we can overcome limbic friction. This time of the day is the most suitable for forming habits that need more physical energy, higher levels of concentration or are the most challenging such as exercise or learning a new language. The habits that are the most important to us should be formed during this time.

Phase 2:

Hours 9-15 after waking up are guided by increased serotonin levels. This hormone is most suitable for tasks that we find the easiest to complete. Forming habits that improve learning and memory without needing excessive energy are the best to form during this time. Stress relieving activities such as yoga or meditation are perfect examples which will contribute to our overall well-being.

Phase 3:

The last phase, 16-24 hours after waking up should be dedicated to rest. More on types of rest every person needs here. Doing activities during this time that allow us to get into a state of deep sleep are important for remembering the healthy habits we are trying to form and ‘locking’ them in. Try making your bedroom darker and at a lower temperature at night to enhance this.  

Getting into the habit of building habits is the most crucial habit to form. The discipline needed to create habits will lead to improved mental well-being, a higher sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Whether you need to focus on building healthy habits related to your physical, mental, or emotional health, there are steps that you can take to make this process easier and more effective. These include understanding the role of limbic friction in habit formation, identifying the activities that help create healthy habits for yourself, and taking advantage of various phases of the day for optimal habit formation. With these tips and strategies, you can take the steps needed to create healthy habits that will support your well-being over the long term.