Bad Habits: We all have them, whether it’s a negative thought pattern, smoking, or laziness - the good news is there are ways to rewire our brains and kick these bad habits once and for all.
1. It’s all in the brain
Research on neuroplasticity is taking the neuroscience world by storm. This means that we have the power to rewire our brains and shape our thought patterns. Habits are what our brain creates. When you have a desire to do something, it triggers a reaction that completes that urge and the brain takes note of this. So the next time that desire comes up, the brain recalls what you did last time and signals you to do the same the satisfy that urge. Whenever a desire is satisfied, it releases a rush of dopamine to make you feel good. For example, when we’re hungry and we turn to fast food to satisfy our urge, blasts of dopamine are released afterwards, therefore, we try to replicate that dopamine-filled feeling by indulging in that same behavior. The same happens when we check our phones to fulfill our desire for attention. Therefore, we have a habit! Now that we have an understanding of how habits form, we can catch it in the making and make sure we're considering all the options in how to satisfy the urge. We can see the habit in the act and evaluate it.
When you truly understand why you want to change a habit and are determined to do it, you can strengthen your willpower and ability to think differently. But some obstacles may naturally come in the way - psychologist Chirstopher Willard came up with the acronym HALT:
Willard suggests to evaluate your willpower when it feels weak according to the following:
Hungry: When you’re feeling hungry or deprived of calories and nutrition, decision-making weakens as impulse control gets affected.
Angry/Anxious: When we’re feeling angry or anxious, we fall into fight-or-flight mode, where our nervous system us goes awry and rationality flies out the window. Emotions run high and can affect our ability to reason through things.
Lonely: When we share our goals whether that be with your friends or even on social media - it makes it far more likely that we will commit to it.
Tired: Not getting enough sleep leads to our self-control and willpower to wilt away. Healthy sleep patterns are integral to accomplishing your goals.
Self criticism and judgement actually short-circuits the brainpower we need to abandon old habits and establish new ones. Criticism and negative thinking activates our fight-or-flight impulse and reduces our ability to put things into perspective. Instead, try being friendly to yourself and adopt a compassionate voice. When we can become compassionate to ourselves not only can we become compassionate to others but we can see our goals more clearly and formulate a path towards it.
4. Self Identification
Humans have the ability to adopt a self-fulfilling prophecy. This means if we tell ourselves “I’m an angry person,” “I’m lazy” or “I can never quit smoking” we start to internalize those statements and embody behaviors that are associated with those statements rather than trying to change them. The next time you give yourself an identity, ask yourself “Just because I got angry this once does it mean I’m an angry person?” “Do I really lack willpower?” “Am I really a lazy person?” These are all stories we tell ourselves but this “me” is not solid. We can easily change them by telling ourselves a different story and start encompassing habits to create new beliefs, new habits, and a new self.
Let us know in the comments below any habit breaking techniques you may have.