Do you have a nasty habit that might be holding you back?
Believe it or not, most of the daily decisions we make are nothing more than emotional reflexes.
Over time, subconscious habits can take the helm of life, and not all habits have your best long-term interests at heart.
On the contrary, you might be shooting your hopes and dreams in the foot and not even realize it.
The problem is that old habits die hard, and ultimately your brain chemistry is to blame.
However, with the right strategies, you can retrain your brain and the habits that guide them.
In this article, we explore the science of creating habits that last a lifetime.
Let’s get started!
What Are Habits?
A habit is a repetitive, mostly subconscious behavior.
According to psychologists, habits are routine ways of thinking, feeling, and doing that you adopt over time.
How Habits Form In the Brain
Researchers have found that the same neurons fire at the beginning and end of specific behaviors.
When this happens enough times in a row, it can become a habit.
In fact, there’s even a region of the brain called the basal ganglia that specializes in habit formation. (1)
When habits become deeply ingrained, they can be very hard to reverse.
Scientists are just now beginning to understand how the basal ganglia influences habit formation.
Recently, researchers like professor Ann Graybeil at MIT discovered that the basal ganglia frees up space in the brain by automating repetitive thoughts and actions. (2)
This can be great for positive experiences, but terrible when it comes to mental health issues like:
- Eating disorders
- Substance addictions
Unfortunately, these negative habits can be especially hard to kick, and they can make creating positive habits a challenge.
3 Reasons Why New Habits Don’t Last
We’re all creatures of habit.
Unfortunately, this can be an extreme asset or a serious curse depending on how disciplined you are.
When dark emotions combine with a lack of willpower, you can slide downhill fast.
At the same time, if you take the right approach, you can create habits that transform your life forever.
In order to reach positive habits at the end of the rainbow, you’ll have to avoid these common pitfalls:
1. Your Brain Is Addicted to Familiar Emotions (Especially Negative Ones)
Did you know that you can be addicted to stress, suffering, and anger?
How on earth, you ask, can someone be addicted to suffering?
As it turns out, the parts of the brain that control habits are also wired by repetition, so if you do it, think it, or feel it regularly enough, it can become a part of you.
Unfortunately, negative emotions can be even more addictive than positive ones. (3)
In fact, the brain rewards anger much more strongly than other emotions because it uses the fight-or-flight response to dominate your brain chemistry.
This is great if you’re running from a bear, but terrible if you’re trying to rewire bad habits.
Every emotion, positive or negative, is a blend of chemicals in the brain.
Whatever brain chemistry you’re most used to, that’s the one that leads to habits.
Believe it or not, your brain will crave these familiar chemicals like a drug.
The good news, however, is that no matter how addicted you get to negative emotions, you can always turn it around.
For example, you can boost the “feel-good” hormone serotonin by exercising, spending more time with loved ones, and eating right.
2. You Fail to Reward Yourself
Most people fail to adopt new habits because they don’t understand how they work.
As it turns out, habits work by a basic system of trigger, experience, and reward.
Think about it this way…
Destructive habits, like smoking a cigarette, are so addictive because they have a built-in reward system. (4)
In other words, no matter what you do, smoking makes you feel good.
However, when it comes to creating habits that don’t have a built-in reward system, like exercise or eating healthy, you have to reward yourself.
For example, with exercise, you might reward yourself by:
- Playing your favorite video game for 15 minutes
- Eating a bar of dark chocolate
- Watch an episode of your favorite show
Ideally, you want to receive your reward in the same place where you work out.
So if chocolate is your reward, eat it at the gym rather than waiting until you get home.
3. Setting Unrealistic Goals and Expectations
When you’re first creating habits, you might be tempted to set unrealistic goals.
However, this can backfire in the long run.
After your initial passion burns out, you don’t want to be staring at a mountain to climb.
Here are some examples of unrealistically high goals:
- Losing 40 pounds when the most you’ve ever lost is 15.
- Building a multi-million dollar business in two years when you’ve never run a business before.
- Running a marathon when the most you’ve ever run is a few miles.
Instead, focus on smaller daily goals that add up to the big ones, but more on that in a sec…
5 Tips for Creating Habits That Last
Creating habits doesn’t have to feel like pulling teeth.
On the contrary, it can be enjoyable and empowering.
Here are five tips to creating habits that stick like glue:
1. Build Small Goals Into Big Ones
Baby steps are your new best friend when it comes to creating habits that last.
If you want to make lasting changes, set yourself up for success by starting with goals that you know you can achieve. (5)
For example, if you want to read one book a week for the next five years, start by reading one chapter a week for the first month, then two chapters, then three and four until you hit your mark.
Before you know it, you’ll be reading a book a week in no time.
2. Learn From Your Mistakes
Let’s be honest, you’re going to slip up every once in awhile as you’re creating habits.
As long as you learn from your mistakes, setbacks can be one of the fastest ways to learn.
If you miss a day of working out, just pick right back up where you left off.
Nobody’s perfect, but you can recover perfectly and keep pushing forward.
3. Plan Ahead to Reduce Excuses
This goes hand in hand with learning from your mistakes.
When you skip a workout, chances are you use an excuse to weasel your way out of it.
After this happens, don’t let that excuse get in the way ever again.
For example, if you skip a workout because you forgot your shorts, always keep an extra pair in the trunk of your car from that day forward.
When it comes down to it, proper planning should make it harder to find excuses.
4. Make It Harder to Give Into Temptations
Trying to ditch the sugary treats for good?
In that case, make it harder to cheat on your diet by removing all the candy, pastries, and cereal from your house.
If other members of your family still want those types of foods around, try locking them in a cupboard and make sure you don’t have access to the key.
5. Write a List of the Reasons for Why You’re Creating New Habits
When it comes time to give in to temptations or cut corners, it helps to have a reminder of why you got started in the first place.
Having a list of all your reasons makes it easier to stay on track.
For example, if you read your list of the “Top 5 Reasons Why I’m Going to the Gym” every day, you’ll be much less likely to flake out.
In moments of stress and weakness, your list can balance emotion with logic.
How a Health Coach Can Help You Build New Habits
Health coaches are mentors that make a living helping people build new habits and break old ones.
They take your specific goals and turn them into a long-term plan for a well-balanced, happier life.
After all, the real reason for creating habits in the first place is to have an amazing life, not just to cross some imaginary finish line.
Health coaches can help with:
- Weight loss/obesity
- Existing medical conditions
- Stress management
- Mental health
- Exercise routine
- Connection to resources
- Finding the ideal diet
In other words, they take a holistic approach towards building habits that last a lifetime.
If you have any more questions about creating habits, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.