How to hack your brain and reprogram your habits like a computer


We live in a world reliant on technology. Whether you grew up before or after our savior the internet was born, it’s pretty likely that you have a computer in your house. It’s even more likely that you know how to use it (otherwise how would you be reading this right now?). However, what a lot of us don’t know is how they work.

Before you click away from here screeching that this is not what you signed up for – don’t worry. This is not computer coding 101. We’re here to talk about how you can reprogram yourself to change any bad habits, but that involves a lot of computer talk. Why? Let us explain.

Our bodies are computers

When you break down humans and computers into basic structures, they’re very similar. The final result is created through a set of instructions that tell us what to do every second of the day. For computers, this is done through codes, whereas in humans it’s in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, in case you didn’t know).

For anyone who’s ever had their computer throw a fit and required assistance fixing it – most of us, right? – you may have noticed the person messing around with a bunch of letters and numbers on the screen. It may appear impossible to decipher, but what you’re looking at is the computer code – its DNA. When something goes wrong with your computer, searching through its code should show you where the issue is, and then you can easily put it right. What’s all this got to do with breaking habits?

How to rewrite your body’s code

Charles Duhigg – journalist and writer extraordinaire – identifies that habits occur as a result of a psychological pattern. Something acts as a trigger for us to carry out the habit, and then the consequent reward from it creates a feedback loop that leads to repeated behavior. In simple terms, getting a positive feeling from doing something makes us want to do it again.

To reprogram your habits, you have to identify when this feedback loop is in place so that you can change the way you react to the triggers. Imagine that you always do something at a certain time, or always go to a certain place. Duhigg uses a daily trip to the cafeteria to buy a cookie as his example. Once he understood how the loop was working, he started to experiment with the routine to see how that would affect the reward. It’s the same structure as changing inputs when coding a computer to influence the output.

Other ways in which he was able to change his habits was through isolating the trigger. This was achieved by asking himself several questions when the desire to repeat the routine cropped up. By looking more intensely at what your emotional state is, who’s around you and what action preceded your urge, you can begin to identify why you’re being influenced to carry out this feedback loop. From there, things become a lot easier to control.

Finding the right strategy

The best way to think of actively hacking your brain – and the way in which reprogramming your life is most similar to coding a computer – is through an if-then strategy. It’s as basic as it sounds. If you write a code, then there will be an output. If you do something, then there will be an outcome.

If you exercise in the morning, then you will start to develop a more athletic body. If you cut out that last cigarette at night, then your overall health will improve. While this may sound very easy on paper, we know it’s a lot harder to put into action. However, if you think of life as a finished program that you can create instructions for, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it starts to pay off. Humans are the original computers, only with slightly less processing power. We work in a very similar way at the core of things, and if there’s a solution for fixing a computer, then sure enough, there’s one for fixing us.