The Inside Scoop on Why Habits Are so Hard to Break
When we are striving to make positive changes to our lives, one must ponder why it is so difficult to break habits in the first place. Why are old habits so endearing when we know the damaging effects? Even when we know that our behavior is destructive, our habits are still so hard to break. To explain this phenomenon, a recent article explores how habits form and why they are so darn difficult to let go of.
Many decisions we make are emotional and lie in our unconscious mind. For example, when we see our favorite foods, we may reach for a plate and start eating it way before the part of our brain comes in that says “Wait, aren’t you on a diet?!” By that point, it is already too late.
Later, we feel guilty and ask ourselves “What was I thinking?”
Here is the reality: You were not thinking very much at all. In that moment, our unconscious minds were taking over for us. To make a comparison, think about how commuting to work every day becomes almost second nature. Before you know it, you’re home and you are not even sure how you got there. In the same way, that is how habits operate.
Unconscious motives are natural to us as humans. As we evolved, our brains became able to do tasks without much effort. The first time you drove a car most likely required full concentration. A few years later, you are talking on the phone, eating, putting lipstick and even texting while driving (don’t do that by the way! It’s horrible!) Those examples show how easy it is for habits to become second nature to us, however just because these habits become second nature does not stop them from being destructive and/or harmful.
You may not be aware of it but environmental influences play a huge role in our behaviors. The stimuli around us activate goals and cravings. Therefore, changing our environment is the key to changing our habits. The new cues to our brain will do most of the work. It is actually kind of simple when you think about it.
Just like in treatment, you are taught to surround yourself by those who are on the same path as you are. That is because you are shifting your environment which makes it significantly easier to shift your habits and reach your goals. Individual decisions are a combination of deliberate wants and impulses. The deliberate system requires effort. The impulse system is effortless and works without consideration of consequences. Impulses result in spontaneous decisions and actions.
The final decision we ultimately make is based on which part of our brain is stronger: the impulsive part of the deliberate part. The ability to “balance” these two systems is the key to self-control. Failure to control these systems means that these two systems are “out of balance” and have come in conflict with each other. When this happens, we fall into old habits because we naturally go to behavior patterns that are already part of our unconscious system.
Furthermore, the article continues to explain how habits we produce are a reflection of changes that were made in the brain. Psychologist Gerald Edeman even says that most of our habits take shape on a neural level. These connections are strong; these habits involve connections between brain cells.
Therefore, to overcome them requires a conscious effort. Depression is used as an example. Most of us have suffered from depression or depression symptoms. People with depression tend to naturally fall back to a certain pattern of thinking. For example, thoughts like “What’s the point,” and “Why bother?” ruminate in their minds. Only through a conscious attempt to modify these unconscious thoughts will a person break free from their depression symptoms. Emotional freedom depends on breaking these habitual patterns. Therefore, breaking habits depends on breaking patterns.
Overall, changes to our life require sustained effort. There need to be repeated efforts made to reinforce a new understanding and new coping skills to the brain. Evidence shows that therapy can be an opportunity to change old habitual patterns. As much as I, or anyone, would want to change a variety of difficulties overnight, rapid changes are not permanent changes. Sustained efforts and conscious decision making require repeated efforts to be sustainable. Fortunately for us, the brain is malleable and can be shaped by changing our perceptions and experiences. Now that we know all about habits, maybe it is time we really make an effort to break the bad ones.
Habits are hard to overcome, but eventually, a new way of thinking CAN be just as second nature as our destructive behaviors are. Our brain needs to be exercised just as much as our body. With repetition and awareness, we have the power to change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.
Author: Shernide Delva