Why are habits so hard to break?

I admit, I have drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to formatting my word documents.  I have been in graduate school for psychology for what seems like years but really has only been just over a year, 14 months.  In the beginning I was told “this is how you will always format your papers and you will always do well” So I did, and I have.  The reason I now change my font size to 12 and my font name to times New Roman as soon as I begin a new word document is because I have now been programed to do so.  I could go crazy and “punch a higher floor” as Prince would have me do, but no, I just auto change things.  Now that I am programmed, it will take some doing to “deprogram” me!  (Incidentally, if you didn’t get the Prince comment, please stop what you are doing and google it, everyone needs a bit of Prince in their lives)

What you say, you can’t just use your will power and change the settings to something other than the system prescribed norms?  It would seem that, no I can’t just will myself to change.  The point I am making here is that even with little things like this, change is hard.  Oh, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done or that it shouldn’t be done. Many people get stuck in this rut right here though.  They find themselves wanting to make a change but realize it is HARD.  Then the changes don’t get made and a bit of depression settles in, and this can happen wave after wave until in some cases there is a full-blown mental illness.  We don’t want that to happen!  We want to be able to make changes for the better. (Now there is a saying about want that I will share with you if you comment, but it’s not exactly appropriate to share here)

Let’s look for a moment at why it is so hard to make those changes, even if there is plenty of will power.  Simply put, our fabulous and fascinating brains work on a trigger and reward type of system.  Sometimes this is called the habit loop. Technically speaking, or rather scientifically speaking, the part of the brain this happens in is called the basil ganglia. We learn a thing, get a reward, repeat the thing, get the reward and thus begins the loop.  After a while, we go on auto pilot and the decision-making part of the brain checks out of the process, but we still are repeating our habit. These are actually neural pathways we form ourselves which makes it more difficult to break the pattern of behavior. What this all means it is that it is EASY to tumble into a routine and HARD to fight our way out when another part of our fascinating and fabulous brain (left) decides this is really not good for us.

To change the behavior our fabulous and fascinating brains must change the direction of the neural pathways.  The problem is, once this pathway is created, the neurons that are doing their synapsis thing, don’t want to change, they are used to things the way they are.  I had a professor once who said that “neurons are stupid” they just do what they are told to do and don’t think for themselves.  So, to sort of explain that, we are going along subconsciously with our habits and then the conscious brain wants to come in and say STOP, change your ways.  The neurons are saying, okay but you need to show me how, then I will do it, otherwise imma just keep on doing my thing, it’s easy. 

The neurons can do something different, they just need to be led down that path, and then led down that path again, and again…see where I’m going here? (down the path)?  Consciously your left brain must tell the neurons to change their path and show them the way.  Replacing one habit with another, and hopefully the other is better for you all around.

And then there is that whole reward you won’t be getting from the unwanted behavior anymore.  Again, the brain is used to that reward and won’t like it being taken away, it will tell you it needs this reward. This is controlled in the basil ganglia again and sorry to say, I have not discovered any research that points to a good solution to this problem.  In the long term, your replacing one habit for another will eventually subdue the brains need for the reward, but this will take time. The reward can easily be triggered again also.  This is a major reason that group meetings for (fill in the blank) anonymous are very important, I mean VERY important to the former addicted person’s continued sobriety.  We cannot be lone wolves when it comes to staying clean after addiction, (which is again controlled in the basil ganglia) we need the support of others so that we don’t fall victim to that reward craving.

What is all this leading to you ask?  Here it is in a nutshell.

I know that it is hard to make a change, even when you want to, and I know that a lot of people will be telling themselves that if they had better will power, they could do it, and then end up comparing themselves to others who seem so successful, making themselves depressed.  I just want to put my hand out and say, I can help you through this.  Enlisting the help of a life coach is not a weakness, it’s an awareness.  It shows strength, not weakness. Together, we can make that change and make it stick!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s