If you know something’s bad for you, why can’t you just stop? Almost every person I know that are smokers say they would like to quit. Drug and alcohol abusers struggle to give up addictions that hurt their bodies and tear apart families and friendships. And many of us have unhealthy excess weight that we could lose if only we would eat right and exercise more. So why don’t we just do it?
At the beginning of a new camp I encounter clients that didn’t realize how bad their eating habits were until they started journaling everything they ate and drank. Upon initial assessment many will verbalize, “I eat healthy” only to realize that skipping breakfast is horrible, eating only 2 times a day is sending their bodies into starvation mode, they eat to many carbs, don’t drink enough water….the list could go on and on. It’s a huge eye opener faced with a lot of excuses as to why they eat they way they do, or they become very defensive which tells me they are more embarrassed that they have put themselves in this unhealthy lifestyle and that this habit is going to be harder to break than they thought.
Habits play an important role in our health. Understanding how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.
Habits arise through repetition. They are a normal part of life, and are often helpful. We wake up every morning, shower, comb our hair or brush our teeth without being aware of it. We can drive along familiar routes on mental auto-pilot without really thinking about the directions. When behaviors become automatic, it gives us an advantage, because the brain does not have to use conscious thought to perform the activity. This frees up our brains to focus on different things like your to do list for the day.
Habits can also develop when good or enjoyable events trigger the brain’s “reward” centers. This can set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media.
When you enjoy eating a hot fudge brownie with nuts it brings about pleasure which makes resisting this habit much harder to break. Enjoyable behaviors can prompt your brain to release a chemical called dopamine. If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again. This explains why some people crave drugs, even if the drug no longer makes them feel particularly good once they take it.
In a sense, then, parts of our brains are working against us when we try to overcome bad habits. These routines can become hardwired in our brains. And the brain’s reward centers keep us craving the things we’re trying so hard to resist.
The good news is humans are not simply creatures of habit. We have many more brain regions to help us do what’s best for our health. Self-control is like a muscle. Once you’ve exerted some self-control, like a muscle it gets tired.
After successfully resisting a temptation, willpower can be temporarily drained, this can make it harder to stand firm the next time around. Practicing different types of self-control such as sitting up straight can improve your posture or keeping a food diary can strengthen your resolve.
Although it would be nice however there’s no single effective way to break bad habits. “It’s not one size fits all. Everyone must find what works best for them and stick to it.
One approach is to focus on becoming more aware of your unhealthy habits and stop making excuses for them. Then develop strategies to counteract them. For example, habits can be linked in our minds to certain places and activities. You could develop a plan, say, to avoid walking down the hall where there’s a candy machine. Resolve to avoid going places where you’ve usually smoked. Stay away from friends and situations linked to problem drinking or drug use.
One way to kick bad habits is to actively replace unhealthy routines with new, healthy ones. Being around like minded people and positive support that will hold you accountable at all times and lastly that will push you towards your goals.
Bad habits may be hard to change, but it can be done. Tadda’s Fitness Center can help you break those bad habits however it’s up to you to want to break them.