How to Stop Bad Habits and Replace Them With Good Ones
"The power of habit is truly strong" (Publilius Syrus)
The Roman poet Publilius Syrus has said many wise things, but the truth of his famous saying about habit affects us all every day anew.
There are strange habits, embarrassing habits, and useless habits. But worst of all are those who bring us disadvantages in our daily lives.
A nervous tick may still be dismissed by fellow human beings as a kindly quirk, but there are enough habits that torpedo our work, harm our health, or make our fellow human beings living with rage.
We usually know very well what we urgently need to get rid of. We get it said by our friends, family, and doctor over and over again, but we do nothing but react defiantly.
If we feel the need to change something, then at least we try, but regularly fail. Why is that, and how can you change it? That's what this article is about.
How do we get used to something?
The mechanisms in our brain for habits and addictive behavior are very similar and quite complex. The detailed description of all known mechanisms that play a role in this would undoubtedly lead too far here.
However, we do not need to become experts in neuroscience to understand some basic principles.
The habit as such is actually a fine thing. The ability to form habits is even an evolutionary advantage. To understand this, we must be aware that learning and habit are basically identical.
If we learn new facts, then we ensure by repeated occupation with the teaching material that we form new connections in our brain. The more often we repeat the subject matter and the more diverse we apply it, the stronger these new connections become.
The stronger the links that represent what we have learned at the neuronal level, the more securely we can access this new knowledge or ability.
Since we can learn not only facts but also skills such as driving or behaviors such as fear of certain situations, it also becomes clear what learning has to do with habits.
Let's take the most pronounced form of a habit: addiction.
All addictions basically arise in a very similar way. It does not matter whether it is an addiction to certain substances or an addiction to specific actions or situations.
In any case, the so-called reward system is activated in the brain upon contact with the addictive trigger. Every addictive trigger is, therefore, characterized by its ability to induce our brain to release certain chemicals and messenger substances that give us a sense of well-being.
From the first contact with an addictive substance, our brain will, therefore, begin to search for ways to regain this sense of well-being.
At some point, however, this trial tips over We repeatedly expose ourselves to the addictive substance, whereby the desired effect, i.e., to trigger well-being, decreases each time until it completely fails to occur.
Unfortunately, our brain has now learned to see something positive in giving in to addiction, regardless of the hoped-for effect. It now continually repeats a pattern that has been evaluated as positive. Addiction is born. We learned it.
How do we replace bad habits with good ones?
When we realize that our brain is designed to automate frequently repeated activities, thoughts, and behavior patterns and become "addicted" to them, all of a sudden everything seems very simple.
Do you want to get used to showing your spouse your appreciation regularly or get up at a particular time in the morning? You may also want to go jogging three times a week or keep a budget book to keep your expenses under control.
Well, then you actually only have to do one thing: repeat exactly these things all the time until they have become second nature to you. Of course, you realize that this realization alone is of no use to you at all.
The problem is, of course, to get oneself to repeat a specific activity often enough to make a habit of it.
Obviously, we ask ourselves why it is easier to get used to relatively unhealthy smoking than to really extremely healthy jogging. That's precisely where the misery lies that leads you to read this article.
It is the inner attitude to our project that puts obstacles in our way.
If we don't succeed in seeing our plan to develop new and good habits as something great, but as a kind of test or as an assignment, we won't succeed.
We remember: Our brains want to be rewarded. The idea that we now have to clench our teeth to be able to fucking do this daily jogging is therefore immediately working against us. If our thoughts and attitudes cause stress in our brain, it will do everything it can to avoid it.
It'll tell us, "hey, this jogging thing is stressing me out. I guess we just don't think about it anymore, okay?"
In this way, we regularly fail at our good intentions. We make ourselves obligated, which could be a pleasure for us. Take the jogging:
Don't say to yourself: "I have to run this half an hour now. Otherwise, I'll feel like a failure again the whole week", but: "Wow, if I'm going to run right now, I don't have to do anything at all, but always one step at a time. I don't need to do the dishes, I don't need to clean, I don't need to think - and then everyone admires me for it. How cool is that?"
As you can see, there are ways to let our brains work for us instead of against us. See this article as your first introduction to this topic. Whole books with strategies and methods how you can defeat your inner laziness are published. Do not hesitate to read some of them. It definitely takes you further than just surfing the Internet and saying to yourself: "yes, actually, I should change something."
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