Breaking Bad Habits with Neuroplasticity

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

“Bad habits are hard to break.”

“A leopard can’t change its spots.”

Seems as though hundreds of years’ worth of sayings, adages and conventional wisdom tells us that once we are set in our ways, change is practically impossible. When it comes to academic behaviors, such as disengagement in class or not turning in completed homework, bad habits can seem to be overwhelming obstacles to student success — for the teacher as well as the student.

Turning Bad Habits Into Good

But what if our brains aren’t actually hard-wired that way? What if, with the right guidance, they can turn bad habits into good? Our friends at Sentis created this brief video to illustrate how our brains are constantly forming new connections and pathways that make it possible for us to create new patterns in our minds and lives. It can help your students get a metacognitive perspective on how their brains work. 

Our Amazing, Changing Brain

Research in neuroscience reveals that the human brain has neuroplasticity — that it’s actually dynamic, changing almost constantly. Habits are just sequences of actions learned over time. Our working memory can’t pay attention to every detail about the things we do, so habits are the brain’s way of creating automated routines and reactions that can run in the background. Instinctively switching on a light when you enter a room, looking both ways before crossing the street, and even checking your phone too often are just a few habits people perform every day.

However, due to neuroplasticity, the brain is also capable of altering, adapting, and re-organizing neural pathways as a response to changes in the world. And with deliberate practice, you, and your students, can use this remarkable habit-forming capability to your advantage. You can create new habits and even replace the bad ones.

Building New Habits for Success

In fact, using your brain to create and maintain new, positive academic habits, such as active listening in class, strategic help-seeking, and doing work even when you don’t feel like it, is highly achievable. Every time you practice a good behavior, you strengthen the neural pathway associated with it. This  makes it easier to repeat that behavior  until it becomes a habit. Nonprofit EduGuide’s evidence-based online activities provide a consistent way for students to learn and build the habits that will help them reach their goals and make learning easier.

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