The Chemistry of Forming a New Habit


  1. Habit is automatic routine behavior, that is repeated regularly and tends occurs unconsciously. For example, drink coffee every morning, get up in the morning in certain time or even walking. I chose this topic because I’m so curious about how and why habit is formed in the brain. Not only that I also curious to find out the reasons why it’s so hard to break a habit, and why is it so important to us. Just like Samuel Adam says with his famous habit quotes, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”Composition of ...
    1. Brain
      1. Mesocortical pathway
        1. Frontal lobes
          1. Prefrontal cortex
        2. Basal ganglia
          1. VTA( Ventral Tegmental Area)
            1. Dopamine (C8H11NO2)
      2. Nigrostriatal pathway
        1. Midbrain
          1. Basal ganglia
            1. Striatum
            2. Substantia Nigra
              1. Dopamine (C8H11NO2)

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The main component that cause this habit to form the brain is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that played a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Dopamine also associated with short-term memory tasks, planning motivation and teds to select and limit sensory information. Not only that, when brain releases dopamine, it cause us to feel wanting and feel rewarded.

There are 2 main parts of the brain that are most affected, Frontal lobes and Basal ganglia.

The Frontal lobes are located in the nearer front portion of the cerebral cortex, which is the largest and uppermost part of the brain. One of the structure of the Frontal lobes called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), has function for personality expression, decision making, planning cognitive behavior and social behavior. Most of the scientists think that PFC area have a executive function mean that it have abilities to recognize the difference between what is better than the other option. Basically, PFC considered to be the first action that important, which is decides the action that you want to do.

Same like Frontal lobes, Basal ganglia is located in the deep of the forebrain and already known to control voluntary movements, and play important role in forming habit, both good and bad. One of the part of basal ganglia called the striatum was another neural structures that are responsible for brain to get the reward or called the reward system. Not only that, striatum also plays to coordinates multiple aspects of cognition, including action planning, decision-making, motivation and motor and action planning. Next component of the basal ganglia that can leads to forming habit is substantia nigra or the latin name of black substance. Substantia nigra contains one most of the two major dopaminergic area or the most dopamine have a major function in movement. Not only basal ganglia, VTA or another word for Ventral tegmental area is another dopaminergic area, that involved with various cognitive and emotional processes.Not only that, frequently, VTA are associated with motivation, rewards and addictions.

Chemistry's Role

Dopamine play really important role to forming habit. All of this happening is because when dopamine is released in the brain, you will feel want not much of pleasure. Before your brain forming habit in your brain, the first thing that your brain do is to decide the action that you going to take.This action was happening inside the frontal lobe especially in the prefrontal cortex. First of the most important thing is dopamine released from VTA to other parts of the brain until it reaches frontal lobes more specifically into prefrontal cortex, this pathway is called mesocortical pathway. When the dopamine release you will feel excited, the more you feel excited the more dopamine will releases from VTA. But too much dopamine in the brain cause several issues such as insomnia, stress and other things. Once the brain recognize unfamiliar movement or actions that you took, with or without you realizing, your brain will signal the unfamiliar actions and form it in the striatum. If you doing the habit in continuous pattern, your brain will forming a new habit, because the striatum drives that behavior like a reflex reaction, making it too hard to stop once a habit form. It start when dopamine releases from substantia nigra travels to striatum. Chemical reactions will happened and the result is a new habit will be form.

Background Research

It takes roughly around 18-254 days for a new habit to form in the the brain, depends on the difficultness of the task. MIT researchers discovered that every habit formed through a simple neurological loop or called the Habit loop, which are consists of three parts: A cue, a routine and a reward. Forming habit is brain number one priority, because brain wants to be more efficient to do something without doing the hard work. Brain wants to learn new skill as quickly as possible move on and try to learn new skills. Once the habit formed in the brain with or without you knowing, you’re brain will recognize the same movement and going to repeat the same action again and again. That’s the reasons why habit or addiction is hard to break.


Quotes about habit.

Information about how many days it takes for habits to form in the brain.

Habit loops.

Psychology about habit.

Definition of habit.

Picture of how habit forming in the brain and where they forming in the brain.

Information about why habit so hard to break.

Information about how and where habits are formed in the brain.

Information about the functions prefrontal cortex, and how is it related for forming habit.

Information about the functions basal ganglia, and how is it related for forming habit.

Information about the functions dopamine, definition of dopamine and how is it related for forming habit.

Information about the functions striatum, and how is it related for forming habit.

Information about the functions substantia nigra, and how is it related for forming habit.

Information about the functions ventral tegmental area, and how is it related for forming habit.

More information about ventral tegmental area.

Information about dopaminergic pathways.

More information about dopaminergic pathways.

About the Author

Eriska Fajriyati is a student at Billings Senior High School that loves reading and also writing stories in her free time. Although she probably won't use chemistry ever again in the future, she still thinks that chemistry is a fun class and one of her favorite subjects. Pretty much because you can blow things up. Her science teacher always says that “If you can do chemistry you can do whatever you want in your life”. With that quote from her science teacher, she decide that once she graduates from High School, she will major in Accounting and Finance. She is from Indonesia, which is close to Singapore, The Philippines, and Australia. Sometime in the near future, she will also try to become successful so she can try to help other people who does not have the opportunity like she does.