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Hard to Break
Cover of Hard to Break
Hard to Break
Why Our Brains Make Habits Stick

The neuroscience of why bad habits are so hard to break—and how evidence-based strategies can help us change our behavior more effectively
We all have habits we'd like to break, but for many of us it can be nearly impossible to do so. There is a good reason for this: the brain is a habit-building machine. In Hard to Break, leading neuroscientist Russell Poldrack provides an engaging and authoritative account of the science of how habits are built in the brain, why they are so hard to break, and how evidence-based strategies may help us change unwanted behaviors.
Hard to Break offers a clear-eyed tour of what neuroscience tells us about habit change and debunks "easy fixes" that aren't backed by science. It explains how dopamine is essential for building habits and how the battle between habits and intentional goal-directed behaviors reflects a competition between different brain systems. Along the way, we learn how cues trigger habits; why we should make rules, not decisions; how the stimuli of the modern world hijack the brain's habit machinery and lead to drug abuse and other addictions; and how neuroscience may one day enable us to hack our habits. Shifting from the individual to society, the book also discusses the massive habit changes that will be needed to address the biggest challenges of our time.
Moving beyond the hype to offer a deeper understanding of the biology of habits in the brain, Hard to Break reveals how we might be able to make the changes we desire—and why we should have greater empathy with ourselves and others who struggle to do so.

The neuroscience of why bad habits are so hard to break—and how evidence-based strategies can help us change our behavior more effectively
We all have habits we'd like to break, but for many of us it can be nearly impossible to do so. There is a good reason for this: the brain is a habit-building machine. In Hard to Break, leading neuroscientist Russell Poldrack provides an engaging and authoritative account of the science of how habits are built in the brain, why they are so hard to break, and how evidence-based strategies may help us change unwanted behaviors.
Hard to Break offers a clear-eyed tour of what neuroscience tells us about habit change and debunks "easy fixes" that aren't backed by science. It explains how dopamine is essential for building habits and how the battle between habits and intentional goal-directed behaviors reflects a competition between different brain systems. Along the way, we learn how cues trigger habits; why we should make rules, not decisions; how the stimuli of the modern world hijack the brain's habit machinery and lead to drug abuse and other addictions; and how neuroscience may one day enable us to hack our habits. Shifting from the individual to society, the book also discusses the massive habit changes that will be needed to address the biggest challenges of our time.
Moving beyond the hype to offer a deeper understanding of the biology of habits in the brain, Hard to Break reveals how we might be able to make the changes we desire—and why we should have greater empathy with ourselves and others who struggle to do so.

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About the Author-
  • Russell A. Poldrack is the Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He is the author of The New Mind Readers: What Neuroimaging Can and Cannot Reveal about Our Thoughts (Princeton). He lives in San Francisco. Twitter @russpoldrack
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    May 7, 2021

    Poldrack (Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology, Stanford Univ.; The New Mind Readers) has written a thorough survey of the psychological and neurological research into habit. Interesting and challenging in its level of detail, this book explains current understandings of the way habits are created by the brain, from anatomy to neurotransmitters, covering both animal and human studies. Poldrack challenges current popular understandings of self-control and addiction and examines the research behind mindfulness, which he finds lacking--a common outcome of his discussions of the state of the field. His purpose appears to be, in part, to critique the research and explain how often scientific studies fall short of providing generalizable findings. Neuroscience has developed rapidly over the past 20 years, but psychological research, which has a longer track record, has discovered some tried-and-true methods for changing habits, which this book shares with the reader. VERDICT Readers looking for easy advice on habit change can turn to plenty of other options in the popular psychology genre. Those who are deeply interested in the brain and neuroscience research should enjoy this stimulating work.--Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • "As he explores why humans evolved to be so habit-driven, Poldrack considers dopamine, which is crucial in forming habits for its impacts on brain plasticity; questions the efficacy of mindfulness (now a 'billion-dollar industry'); and covers the... "As he explores why humans evolved to be so habit-driven, Poldrack considers dopamine, which is crucial in forming habits for its impacts on brain plasticity; questions the efficacy of mindfulness (now a 'billion-dollar industry'); and covers the formation of addictions, which he calls 'habits gone bad.' Poldrack's study is strongest when he describes experiments on interrupting habit formation on a cellular level, which can potentially help one shed such undesirable behaviors as smoking and overeating. . . . This is a worthy intellectual adventure, one that's well articulated for readers looking for rigorous study."
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    Princeton University Press
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Hard to Break
Hard to Break
Why Our Brains Make Habits Stick
Russell A. Poldrack
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