“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” That anonymous quote applies to habits as well, because as we’ll see – habits are a kind of training.
Unhealthy habits have their basis in something healthy and good about us. Whether it’s tending to stay up late, eating unhealthy, or lack of exercise – the modern lifestyle has found ways to “hack” our healthy instincts such as to seek nutritious food and rest when there is no immediate danger around.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, many things are conspiring against your better interest at the moment. The good news is that you can form new habits that stick for good. It can take a while, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make it easier.
Wisdom fundamental enough to be inscribed in an ancient Greek temple – first realize what it is you are doing. Fast-paced life will grab your attention. It’s not even enough to just realize what it is we need to fix. We sink into these behaviors because it’s easier for us and by the time the habit forms we’re not even aware of it.
Try keeping a journal for a month. Count how much time spend and how many times you engage in your habit and you’ll find that it’s probably even worse than it originally seemed.
The next thing to understand is what triggers the behavior. What precedes or comes after? It might be your work or a personal problem. The habit may be a kind of escapism, a coping mechanism.
One other thing to keep in mind is your age and gender. We have different needs at different times and it’s important, to be honest with yourself. Women who are over 40 might want to take extra care of themselves and incorporate some additional good practices.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released by the brain in response to pleasurable stimuli. It triggers feelings of pleasure and reward, and it also affects memory and attention. In short, It’s a reinforcing mechanism.
Reason be damned, if you engage in something that is objectively pleasurable to your brain, you will form a habit or even an addiction. Actually, it may be helpful to think of habits as mild addictions.
Dopamine is a “pleasure hormone”, so there’s no use in going too hard on yourself or punishing yourself. Whatever you are trying to change or eradicate will come back with a vengeance. You will be left to wonder “why am I so weak?”
You’re not weak, but you might be impatient. Your brain is hooked on dopamine and your neurons are primed to habits that trigger it. Your habit is a loyal dog gone rogue, turning into a wolf. You need to bring it back to the fire, re-tame it. So take a while and work with it.
An old saying says that the way we think impacts the quality of our lives. The key to achieving overall wellbeing is to think differently and take care of yourself. Always put yourself first, and listen to what your body is trying to communicate to you.
So you’ve taken a good hard look at yourself and the truth has sunk in. Somewhere along the way you’ve become lost in the woods. It’s time to plan your way back. Write it out. Go at it one by one and by the end of the year, you will have attained 5 healthy habits.
- What exactly is your goal and why? These habits are something you do while you are focusing on something else. Give yourself a way to keep your goal in mind and give yourself as many good reasons as you can. Your habit will resist you, it will want to take the easy way, make sure you have some good arguments to throw back at it.
- Define your steps. Start small. You need a few easy victories. Define a reward system for when you start shifting your habits. Don’t withhold reward entirely. If having sweets means a lot to you, treat yourself now and then but define clearly when you take them.
- Push out the undesired habit. Slowly supplement it with healthier habits until you’ve replaced the undesired one altogether. For example, start eating healthier sweets and keep learning better and healthier recipes.
- Keep to the plan. You will have bad, stressful days. It’s very tempting to fall back into the old patterns of behavior. If you have to take a step back in your plan from time to time, that’s alright – but don’t abandon your plan altogether. Revert to the previous week’s plan or extend the current one. You’re not stalling, you are resisting pressure and that is progress.
- Reinforce new habits. Go back to the basics – why you are doing what you are doing. Focus on the end goal and your progress in that direction.
- Find support. It’s important to have someone to help keep you in check or just support you and be there for you.
Change is possible. Your habits have hardwired your brain into current patterns of behavior, but just as it was done – it can be undone. It takes mindfulness, patience, and dedication. Treat it like a project with clear goals and methods. Good luck