22Mar

Changing Our Unhealthy Habits

Our lives today are ruled by our habits, how we react to things, the way we get to work, how in shape we are, what we believe are all examples of different habits that people have. Habits define who we are as people. So, if we want to improve our lives and change our habits why is it so hard to create new and healthier habits and stick to them. First, we need to discuss how our brain creates habits.

There are four steps that we go through for every habit that we have. Those four steps are:

1. Cue

2. Craving

3. Response

4. Reward

Our brain goes through this four-step process with every habit that we have. Cue is anything that triggers a behavior from us that leads to a particular behavior. We are always looking around and analyzing the world around us, when our brain registers a cue, it then naturally activates a craving.

Cravings are the motivational step, for instance it isn’t the television itself we crave, it’s the distraction from our own lives or the desire to being entertained that we crave. It isn’t the coffee we crave, it’s the relief of that jolt of caffeine that coffee gives us first thing in the morning. Cravings are going to be different for every person. For instance, clinking ice in a glass might trigger the craving of alcohol for someone in recovery, for someone else it might be background noise in a restaurant.

The third step is the response, this is the actual habit itself. Our response is going to be based upon our motivation and is there something that is in the way of us completing the response. If the behavior requires more energy physical and mental than what we are willing to put into it, we will not do the response. Our ability to do a response must also be taken into account, I love to watch those videos of fancy cakes that people make. I want to make one, however, I do not have the skill set in order to be able to do it.

Rewards are the end goals of each of our habits. There are two reasons why we go after our rewards, the first is they satisfy us, this is our immediate reward to the craving. That first sip of coffee is satisfying the craving of caffeine. It teaches us that after that first sip of coffee we will get a jolt of energy. Our brain is going to remember the lessen of taking that sip of coffee and that it gives us that jolt of energy. Over time, having coffee in the morning becomes a habit as we get the reward of a jolt of energy first thing in the morning.

This is considered a neurological feedback loop cue-craving-response-reward. This happens over and over again until the habit is formed. So how do we break the neurological feedback loop and create a healthier habit for ourselves?

First, identify what are the habits you want to change. Make a list and pick one. Make sure you don’t beat yourself up when making the list. This isn’t about listing your faults; this is about how to improve yourself. Remember pick one habit you want to change.

Second, identify what it is exactly you are getting out of the habit. Are you overeating for comfort? Watching too much TV because it’s distracting from your life? Are you over drinking to numb your feelings? Knowing the reward you are getting out of the habit will help you to come up with healthier ways to do things.

Third, choose something healthy to replace the unhealthy habit. If you are overeating when bored, find something to do when you are bored. Go for a walk, write in a journal, listen to music, go for a drive.

Fourth, remove triggers. If you are overeating, measure your food out onto your plate or use a plate that has portions on it. This isn’t necessarily something that you have to do forever, you should do this until you feel confident in your new healthy habit and feel you are able to do it without the extra help. If people are your trigger, I see this a lot with those who are struggling with addiction, make sure that the five people closest to you are positive influences for you or do they drag you down?

Fifth, visualize yourself making the change. This is part of CBT and retraining your brain away from negative thoughts and behaviors into positive thoughts and behaviors. Our behaviors are heavily influenced by our thoughts, if we are thinking positively about ourselves and believe we can make these changes, we are going to make them, it will take time.

Six, monitor your negative self-talk, as with the fifth step, keeping a positive mindset will keep us on the right track. If you keep putting yourself down, you will not succeed. If a negative thought pops into your mind immediately change it.

Seven, baby steps! Remember you need to take smaller steps in order to get to the final step/goal. When I decided I wanted to get my master’s degree, I couldn’t just say “Hey I want my masters.” And the next day, month or even year I would have it. I had to figure out would I be able to work full-time and go to school full-time or part-time? How would I pay for it? Would I do online or in-person? Do I have the desire to go another three years of schooling to get my master’s degree? All of these things played a roll in my ultimate goal of getting my master’s.

Eight, accept that you are going to fail at times and it’s okay. You are creating a new healthy habit, just as your unhealthy habit took time to create, your healthy one is also going to take time to create. Don’t beat yourself up or give up on yourself. Brush yourself off and get back on track.

Nine, know that creating new habits takes time. It can take weeks to create and develop a new habit. Just like eight, don’t beat yourself up or give up on yourself.

The first step in creating a new healthy habit is making yourself aware of what you are doing, and why. One of my favorite quotes about habits is this, “a habit is something we are unconsciously aware of, once we become conscious of it, it then becomes a choice.” By anonymous. If you would like help in getting started on your journey of creating healthy habits please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Hedrick