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The 9 Habits and the Helpers High: Exploring the Neuroscience of Good Habits

At Oasis Community Learning we understand the importance of educating our young people holistically. We want our students, and our staff for that matter, to become the best version of themselves. Therefore, we incorporate the Oasis 9 Habits into school and work life. But how do we make these habits stick? We explore the neuroscience behind building habits and how our young people can keep the soft skills we know will benefit them for a lifetime.

The Oasis 9 Habits are a way of life. Through integrating the following into lessons and running workshops, we aim to help our family become more Compassionate, Patient, Humble, Joyful, Honest, Hopeful, Considerate, Forgiving and Self-Controlled. Working these into the curriculum and office life is no mean feat. The challenge however is encouraging our students and staff to live them, and finding a way for these characteristics to stick.

Arguably you can better understand through exploring the neuroscience of learned habits. The different control centres within our brains are connected through neural pathways. Most pathways start to solidify when we reach 25, however through challenging ourselves and taking on a new habit we can create new ones. Habit is the key word here as we must repeat whatever we are doing for our pathway to become more of a permanent fixture. Think of pathways like a hiking trail. If you walked through a field once there may only be a slight indent of footprint in the grass. But if you were to walk the same path again and again, it would become more evident and longer lasting. There is a hard-wiring that occurs in our brain, making that path more easily accessible and memorable for future use.

But how does that help us with our 9 Habits? It is unmistakable that the common underlying theme behind them is one of positivity; of kindness, whether that is to the self, others or the environment. We know that from scientific research positive life experiences (including kindness, joy, optimism and hope) are linked to the release of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. The ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters. These create a feeling of calmness, happiness and elation and in the instance where you have shown humility to others – the phenomenon of ‘helpers high’.

Let’s unpack this. When you experience something, or do something that makes you or others happy the pleasure centre in your brain kicks into action. Closely connected to your pleasure centre is your reward pathway – linked to dopamine release. If we are looking at building a rewarding habit into our lives we need to ensure that this is not a one-off experience. In order to do this, our brains are structured so that the all-important reward pathway is linked to our memory control – the hippocampus. If we remember the action, we remember the reward, which in turn strengthens our desire to do it again, reinforcing this behaviour.

Through learning about and, most importantly, practising the 9 Habits, our staff and students are taking these positive behaviours and creating neural pathways. Pathways that we hope will be long lasting, as we know that these positive soft skills have the power to spark the ‘helpers high’ when put into action and reinforce positive societal behaviour. If we are able to encourage our young people on their journey to solidifying these pathways at a young age, the benefits of this could potentially last a lifetime.

So give it a go. Challenge yourself to develop a new good habit, or reinforce what you already practice. Wouldn’t it be great to get that ‘helpers high’ more often?