Breaking From Habituation Cycle

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When we work in the same environment, follow the same routine, or engage in similar activities repeatedly, we can become overly familiar with our surroundings. Our minds begin to adapt to this familiarity, a psychological process known as habituation, which can lead to decreased productivity.

Habituation is an essential adaptive mechanism. It allows people to filter out irrelevant or non-threatening stimuli and focus on more important ones. However, it can also lead to desensitization and a lack of responsiveness to important stimuli. This lack of responsiveness can, at times, lead to negative consequences.

Explore Psychology

A recent NPR News article features an interview with Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discussing their recent book titled “Look Again: The Power of Noticing What Was Always There“. Sharot told NPR that if we could break or make changes from this habituation cycle, it would allow people to experience joy again from the familiar things around them.

During the interview, Sharot suggested the following strategies to break free from the habituation cycle:

  • “Take breaks from good things. Remove yourself from that environment or situation for a certain amount of time — then come back. You’ll be better able to notice things that are great. People who go on business trips, for example, often find that when they come back, they suddenly appreciate their comfortable home, their loved ones, the view from their window.
  • “One study has shown that after people move from one country to another, for a short duration, they’re better at problem solving. It could be because everything is new: the language, the way things look, the people, everything. Their brain is “on” in a different mode, a mode of taking in information and thinking about things differently. So they become better at problem solving. 
  • “Another interesting study has shown that if you change your environment in a very simple way — like getting out of your office to work in the kitchen or a coffee shop or go for a walk — you become more creative. Now, the creativity boost that you get from simply changing your environment lasts for only about six minutes. However, those six minutes could be quite important. That could be the big eureka moment. So it’s definitely something that I recommend doing any workday. Don’t just sit in the same place — try to change your environment somewhat.
  • “One thing that we think may matter is age. There is a well-known U-shape of happiness in life, where happiness is relatively high in teenagers and kids; then it goes down, down, down and reaches rock bottom on average in your midlife. Then it starts going up again.