It All Starts In the Brain
The human brain is literally wired to develop habits. When we do something that we enjoy like eat tasty food, drink alcohol, or smoke, the brain releases dopamine which makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The dopamine-rich part of the brain called the striatum memorizes routines that are linked to getting a particular good feeling afterward.
Since we are hard-wired to seek our immediate rewards, it can be very difficult to make choices that will be good for us in the long term, because we seek the instant gratification that often comes from unhealthy choices. Over time, certain cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic. The more you practice a dopamine-releasing habit such as smoking or eating a doughnut for breakfast, the deeper that habit will be engrained in you, and the harder it will be for you to break.
Fortunately, there are certain steps you can take to put an end to your bad habits, no matter how long you have had them for:
1. Identify Your Triggers:
Figure out what causes you to turn to your habit for comfort. Take note of what time of the day it is, what you are feeling, and the surrounding situation. Maybe you drink to ease anxiety that you feel after work, maybe you eat comfort food when you are feeling especially lonely.
2. Adopt a healthy replacement behavior:
Once you identify your trigger, you are able to adopt a replacement behavior to give you similar feelings of relief that your former unhealthy habit gave you. If you are anxious and feel like drinking, try exercising instead to relieve the stress. If you are craving unhealthy food because you are bored or lonely, call up a friend.
3. Focus on the long-term:
Instead of thinking about how nice an alcoholic drink would make you feel or how tasty a big slice of pizza would be, focus your thoughts on the long-term gratification you will get once you break your unhealthy habits. It is important to keep reminding yourself of the bigger goals that you want to achieve!
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again:
Kicking a habit for good takes time – and a lot of tries. Realistically, it is likely that you will slip up a few times along the way. Those who view their backslides as failures are much more likely to give up than those who allow themselves to make a couple mistakes and keep pushing forward.