The Remarkable Power of Habituation
The power of the human brain to form a habit is remarkable. Research tells us that if you do anything every day for three weeks, on the twenty-second day you will wake up expecting and perhaps even wanting to do the activity again, no matter how much you may have resented and resisted along the way.
Repetition anchors behavior so deeply within us that the behavior starts to take place almost on its own. Activities that were once new to us and required conscious thought become fluid, effortless actions driven by the power of deep neuronal grooves.
Every time we take a certain action, we scratch a little deeper into the same groove, deepening and deepening. Like paths cut through a forest, these neuronal pathways become ever more familiar and easy to follow without thinking about it.
Here’s how to change habits and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
To Make a Change, Make A Habit
Because of the power of habituation, the easiest way to anchor a positive change into your lifestyle is to make it a habit. To make a new, healthy behavior a habit, you just have to do it over and over again, consistently, until it becomes second nature.
Making a personal daily ritual out of a positive behavior can help it become even more anchored into the body. That’s why those who meditate, have a creative writing practice, or are long distance runners, for example, often have a routine that they stick to, rain or shine.
We can admire such a person’s discipline, but in fact, that is the easiest way to get past the stage of having power struggles with oneself. Building a routine engages our inborn habit-formation tendencies to work in our favor.
You know you’ve successfully formed a strong habit when the body comes to expect the behavior to take place and may prepare for the behavior on its own without you needing to think about it. The body will wake up at the right time without an alarm clock, wanting to do yoga, ready for green juice.
Addiction is a Bad Habit
Whatever habits we have now, we formed them in the same way. We formed our bad habits one day at a time by repeating negative behavior over and over again.
Even addiction is just a really, really strong habit, one that’s extra hard to break because of the way that mind-altering chemicals hijack our brain chemistry to cement a behavior with more than the usual adhesive force.
But even addictions aren’t possible unless we continue to do a behavior over and over again. And no addiction can survive if we can just find a way to stop doing the behavior.
Switch Out the Reward
The addict within, or the side of you that is concerned with avoidance of pain as well as going after pleasure, will not easily give up its go-to survival strategies without a believable and effective replacement plan. If you give up substances, how will you numb your overwhelming feelings when you get triggered into shame, fear, guilt, anger, or unworthiness? It’s a sincere question.
If there’s no strategy for replacing the reward we have been getting from a bad habit, we often fail. Therefore we will do best when we negotiate a realistic plan with ourselves, with goals that are truly achievable and an arsenal of support to help us do in a better way what the bad habit has done for us until now.
When looking to replace a habit, identify what the bad habit does for you, then find another way to experience that effect that isn’t destructive to you.
To kick you off, a little assignment: see if you can write down 100 ways to create pleasant sensations that don’t involve anything overly self-destructive. 1. Take a nap. 2. Go for a brisk, 20-minute walk. 3…?
Don’t Let Addiction In, No Matter What It Says
No matter what the addict within says to you, remember addiction requires YOU to take the destructive action again and again for it to live inside you. If you stop the destructive action, the addiction will have to leave you, sooner or later. It may circle around you for a long time, hoping you’ll let it back in, but as long as you remember that your body and soul is yours, and it’s your choice whether or not to let addiction in, you should have what you need to live life in peace, addiction-free. You are allowed to say no to addiction.
If you or an important woman in your life is ready to say no to addiction, reach out to us today to learn more about how to change habits through our treatment programs. Call (866) 950-0648 to learn more.