We all struggle with our own vices, and during January we get downright anxious about our bad habits because, believe it or not, our New Year’s resolutions lists are still fresh in our minds albeit dying a slow painful death. Once we resolve to commit ourselves to something, say you want to quit sugar or smoking, eventually a form of internal dialogue starts acting up telling you that this one cookie or bite of cake won’t hurt. If you succumb to that inner voice, we all know what eventually happens. The resolutions will fly out the window till December 31st. Admit it people; you are not alone we’ve all been there. How can we break bad habits with the minimum amount of effort? Read below.
How Do Habits Form?
Understanding the cycle of habit formation will give you some insight to help you break those habits. Habits start with a faulty feedback loop. To understand feedback loops I’ll give you a small example. At some point in our childhoods we were either rewarded by cake or chocolates or we sought these out to comfort ourselves. The trigger is the chocolate or cake, the behaviour is us eating the cake, and the reward was a combination of the dopamine dose that was released and the rewarding feeling we received. As a result we started associating cake or chocolate with these good feelings and from then on whenever we needed to conjure up these feelings we went for cake or chocolates.
We as human beings need habits to help us with our day to day survival. We rely on habits to save us time, effort and thinking. Imagine having to go over the steps you use to brush your teeth every morning! Exactly, we need habits to help us cut corners throughout our day for our own survival. But when we start relying on poor habits for our emotional well-being that’s when it turns problematic. As adults we start giving more value to the reward when in fact if we pause and think we realise that the reward value is not that high anymore.
How Do We Break This Cycle?
Just by becoming aware of it! If you want to break the cycle of mindlessly reaching out for a brownie to raise your dopamine levels all you need to do is to bring awareness to your behaviour and the reward involved. Do you need this sugar right now? The answer is no! Will it give you such a rush after eating it? If the answer is yes then by all means go ahead and release any guilt. BUT, if the guilt you will feel will outweigh the pleasure then it’s time to rewire your brain and your reward mechanism. In this way you are bypassing your will-power – which is considered the weakest point in your brain – and your are focusing on the reward pathway – which is considered the strongest part of your brain.
To help you rewire these pathways all you have to do is pause and shed a little curiosity. Step back and watch your habit as if you’re doing it for the first time and really think of how it makes you feel. Be kind and compassionate to yourself while doing this. Do some investigation as to what this habit is serving, then look for alternatives to the habit. Research suggests that you will need 15 to 20 repetitions of practicing pausing and getting curious to help you break certain habits. And at other times you will need more. If you’re curious as to what curiosity will do for you, even if this sounds corny but really all you need is a bit of curiosity!