This past January, as I often do, I set a New Year's resolution to eat healthier and begin exercising. By mid-February, I panicked realizing that I still hadn't changed anything. I got my butt into gear and finally began my program. I worked hard, focused, lost some weight and felt great. I remember thinking to myself, "Why didn't I do this a long time ago. I haven't felt this good in years."
After about 5 or 6 weeks, my plan derailed and I completely went back to my old, unhealthy lifestyle. Man, that is so frustrating. And the worst of it is, this same thing has happened EVERY DARN YEAR for the last 4 years. Even though I felt better and looked better, I went backwards and settled into my old lifestyle.
So, WHY do we fail at eliminating our bad habits?
Earlier this month, my brother Lee and I went to a one day conference put on by the Institute of Brain Potential called How the Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower is Not Enough. It was a very informative and interesting seminar. The following are the main points that I learned from the seminar.
Once a Habit is Formed, It is Permanently Stored in Your Brain
There is a tiny little structure right in the middle of your brain called the Basal Ganglia that stores any habits that you have learned FOREVER. If you developed a habit of smoking cigarettes, for example, the habit of smoking is stuck in your brain for the rest of your life.
Before you go beating up on the Basal Ganglia, please note that it does serve a very important purpose. If you learn how to do something useful, in your career or any other area of your life, your brain remembers how to do it for the rest of your life. Even if you have not tried it for years, you can always pick that function up again fairly easily. Two great examples of this are snow-skiing and bike riding. Once you know how to do them, your body always knows how to do them.
Interestingly enough, this tiny brain structure is located at the very core of your brain. Obviously God didn't want it to be easily disrupted.
Because of the Basal Ganglia, overcoming bad habits is almost always a life-long endeavor.
If we don't act out on a bad habit for a long time, what makes us go back to it?
According to the presentation by the Institute for Brain Potential, there are two main causes for Bad Habit Relapse.
TOO MUCH STRESS
When we are over-stressed, we often resort back to our bad habits because they give us some
temporary relief from the Stress.
The presenter first referred to this as Reward Deficiency, but then admitted that what it really is is boredom. When we are bored, the amount of dopamine floating around in our brain is low. Our bad habits give us a little jolt of dopamine, which brings us out of boredom.
So there you have it. I hope you gain a little more insight into why bad habits are so hard to overcome. As I finish writing this article, it is 11:30 PM and my stomach is stuffed to the max from the Chinese Buffet we ate at tonight. Obviously, knowledge about bad habits alone does not eliminate them....
In Part 2, we will discuss some practical tips for overcoming bad habits.
What about you?
Do you have trouble overcoming bad habits? Are they always there to pester you when you are stressed out or bored?
Information about the seminar I mentioned can be found at: https://www.ibpceu.com/pdf/custom/HABNHMEMARIF11-4.pdf