Fun stuff, right there, am I right?
Typically just seeing the word is enough to bring up feelings of guilt, shame, and frustration. After all, how many times has every single one of us unsuccessfully attempted to quit a bad habit?
Likely, the answer is many times.
We’ve obviously been there, so we understand the frustration of wanting to kick a habit … but it seems to have a life of it’s own, and wants to stay.
What causes this? Why are habits so tough to get rid of?
Understanding why habits are tough to drop is actually going to help you drop them – plus, adding this one trick will help kick them for good.
What A Habit Is Made Out Of
It’s true that continuing a habit is a choice (nothing can take away that fact); however, there is a very, very good reason as to why it’s difficult to not choose your habits over and over again … even when they aren’t improving your life.
The key here lies in a bit of neuroscience. There is a popular saying in the field, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Now, when we do basically anything, our neurons are firing, whether we’re conscious of the activity or not. When we repeat an activity, however, we fire neurons along the same pathway.
Why is this important? Because if we keep firing neurons along the same pathway, that pathway in our brain becomes reinforced (i.e.: it becomes stronger). When this pathway is an activity that we’re repeating, our brain begins to crave the ease and familiarity of this pathway. The neurons have solidly wired together.
Welcome to your habit.
When you attempt to kick a habit, the reason it feels so hard is that not only does the habit feel “safe” to your brain due to being familiar, but other habits or activities haven’t yet form new neural connections in your brain to replace it. The new behavior that is not your habit feels foreign, and our brains associate change and “newness” with potential danger and/or death (say thank you to the primitive part of your brain!).
This is one of the reasons why some people advise replacing an old habit with a new habit, and giving yourself so many weeks to adjust. This is to allow for your brain to form stronger neural connections with the new activity, in order to crowd out the old habit. This approach can work, and there is an element of time that comes with reinforcing any new habit, but there is another key that many people miss during this process that could lead to failure.
The Trick To Kicking A Habit
The trick? Many call it mindfulness, but in truth, this is pretty vague. We already know we need to break the habit, so how much more “mindful” can we get?
So when we talk mindfulness, we’re really talking awareness. Let’s say your habit is binging on some type of fast food, like french fries. You’ve gotten into the habit of eating french fries several times a week, and even if you do manage to skip a week, something always draws you back.
Now, we want to bring awareness not to the fries themselves … but to why you feel you need the fries. What are they doing for you? What do they make you feel?
I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, they taste damn good and I feel damn good while I’m eating them.”
This is partly true. But the key is to ask yourself: Is that the full feeling? Obviously this is a habit you consider “bad,” otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to give it up … so are you sure there isn’t a feeling of guilt or shame present as you’re eating those fries?
And what about afterwards? Perhaps you set a weight loss goal, and every week you eat fries, you either fail to lose weight, or you even gain some. How does that make you feel?
Why focus on these negative emotions?
Because part of the reason your brain is reinforcing a habit is because the habit feels good. Once it starts feeling bad, however, your brain is less likely to flood your system with reward hormones … which makes it much easier to quit, since those hormones are extremely addictive!
So what you want to do is to shift your feeling about your habit. Become aware when that craving hits you, and force yourself to remember how shitty it actually makes you feel afterward. Ask yourself: is it worth it now?
This may take a few tries, but eventually, you’ll start to move away from the habit and have a greater sense of control. And, once you discover the good side of what a habit makes you feel, you can search for healthier habits that have a similar effect, and start implementing them.
Cheers to THAT!