We’re in that time when many of us resolve to do things differently going forward. Most of these involve ending existing habits that have formed in our brains over the course of years or even decades, which is why so many resolutions falter within a couple of months.
Our brains have so much to do between running the critical automatic functions of our body like heartbeats and breathing and the relatively small slice of brainpower left for everything else. The brain automates everything it can.
It’s remarkably easy to ingrain a routine of grabbing a cigarette when you’re bored or a bag of chips when you’re sitting down to work on something you’ve been trying to avoid. All you need is a trigger and a response.
There are two simple, if not always easy, steps to breaking a bad habit.
Recognize the trigger and response — figure out what’s happening when you start doing the thing you want to stop. What situation precedes that action? Is that situation avoidable? If not, pay attention to what you get out of the response. Is the reward as satisfying as you think it is?
You may decide the smell and taste of cigarettes is unappealing, or the self-recrimination you subject yourself to after eating the whole bag of chips saps your time and energy.
Start wiring a new neural path for a more positive response — tapping into mindfulness is a great trick here; it resets your brain to stay active by observing the moment rather than turning to autopilot.
Try to get engrossed in that project you’ve been using snacks as a crutch to get yourself through. If you’re stressed, you can try to resolve the situation causing the anxiety or turn your focus to whatever you choose to do in the moment, which usually has little to do with the past or potential future event that’s stressing you out.
This technique doesn’t always work by itself if you’re dealing with addiction to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs, but it’s worth trying for any habit you want to break.
Julie Kahn | Photo: Blushing Cactus Photography