Have you ever wondered why it can be SO hard to break a habit?
Do you find it hard to set up a new habit and make it “stick”?
To uncover why it is so challenging at times to break and create habits, we need to journey into our fascinating and complex brains to see why we do what we do.
By understanding some of the basics of your brain, you can start to re-wire your brain so you can “stick” to the types of habits that are going to deliver the results and experiences you want in life (and let go of the ones that are holding you back).
Do you remember when you first learnt to drive a car?
It was overwhelming. There was just so much to learn and take in and all at the same time! Yet, each time you jumped into the driver’s seat and repeated the actions of driving, you got better and better and it became less overwhelming.
As you repeated the actions, you created stronger pathways in your brain, making those actions easier and easier, to the point that what felt really challenging when you were learning are actions you now do on “autopilot”.
How does this relate to habits?
There is a term used in the neuroscience community that says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.
Put simply, this means that through repetition we create connections in our brains that get stronger and stronger and become ingrained, becoming a habit.
The way the brain does this is phenomenal and allows us to learn and develop competency and mastery in our lives, but it can also keep us stuck doing things we wish we could stop.
If each night you eat three chocolate biscuits while watching your favourite TV shows after work, by doing this each night you are creating both a habit but also a strong neural association in your brain where watching TV at night equals eating chocolate biscuits.
When you don’t do it, it feels like something is missing.
The hold some of our habits have over us though, are about more than the strong associations we have created in our brain, but also how they can light up the pleasure pathways in our brain.
When the actions we are taking are also linked with desire and pleasure, the reward pathways in our brain lights up. The feel good and motivating chemical dopamine is released, meaning we enjoy what we are doing and crave to do more of it.
Unsurprisingly, this process and pathway, is involved in addictions. So, if we are doing things repetitively that make us feel good, we are wiring our brain and activating chemicals that make it very hard to “kick” the habit.
If you want to break habits that are not helping you reach your health, fitness, wellness and life goals, there are some questions you can ask yourself that help you change your habits to support you.
1. “Are the habits you want to break activating your pleasure pathways and making you feel good?”
If they are, just trying to “quit” these habits can be hard.
Consider what other pleasurable actions you could replace them with. This will increase the chance your new habit will stick.
Without understanding that your habit does serve you in some way (gives you pleasure) it will be a struggle to let go of it completely.
Have you ever tried to just eat a carrot when your brain and body has created a habit and desire to eat chocolate? It rarely works, especially not long-term.
Ignoring the underlying reasons why we do what we do limits our ability to move past them and change.
2. “What associations are you wiring into your brain through your repetitive actions?”
To you, does waking up mean you grab your phone and check Facebook?
Does Friday night mean junk food?
Does working on something difficult mean coffee?
When we bring awareness into the associations we are creating in our brain, we are in a position of power.
We can’t change anything we aren’t aware of, but when we do realise what we are doing we have a choice to change or continue down the same path.
Often the associations we are creating we do subconsciously, so it’s important to bring awareness into your life and consider why you do what you do and if that is what you want for your life.
3. “Have you set new habits that are “tick-able?”
Boost your motivation for your new habits by setting small “tick-able” goals you can engage with daily.
Creating a goal sheet or table that you can put on your wall and tick each day releases dopamine in your brain and in doing so makes you feel good and more motivated to keep going, and as we know, repetition leads to new habits.
When you understand what is happening in your brain when you form habits and why they can be so compelling and hard to “kick”, you can take control and consciously choose how you will “wire” your brain.
By finding new pleasurable actions, boosting your internal motivation by creating “tick-able” goals and by being conscious of what connections you are making in your brain you can break and create the habits you want to see if your life.
About Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a business consultant and educator and also a wellness and mindset writer and speaker. Jessica has featured in Australia’s leading magazines, including WellBeing and The Sunday Telegraph’s, Body and Soul.
Jessica created her business, The Spark Effect, so she could help business owners develop a solid marketing foundation and create compelling marketing content.
She loves helping businesses to think differently, to find clarity and to discover new ideas to gain more exposure.
She is a self-confessed nerd and loves teaching people how they can use their brain to boost creativity and productivity and create marketing messages that resonate and inspire action.
To read more about Jessica’s story and to discover more about business marketing and how to use the latest in neuroscience for everyday life and effective marketing - head on over to: www.thesparkeffect.com.au
Thank you Jess! This was a very insightful read!
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