I recently watched a TED talk of Judson Brewer, an American psychiatrist and author of “The Craving Mind”, the book he wrote after studying the way our habits form and understanding if and how would it be possible to change them.
The outcome of his study was quite impressive by its…simplicity and I really want to share it with you. Just because all of us have bad habits, that most of us want to break. And just because I am so nice to share some precious tips with you ;P
So why, for the God sake, is it so hard to get rid of a bad habit? Eating too much, smoking, abusing of alcohol? Because when we are trying to do it, to fight against our well anchored behavior, we are actually fighting against one of the oldest evolutionary survival instincts! Called positive and negative reinforcement, this process goes basically through 3 steps:
Trigger – Behavior – Reward – Repeat
Example: Being hungry – Eating food – Feeling good – Repeating
The problem is created when your “creative” brain tells you: “Hmm.. you know what? You can use this process also for other negative triggers, when you are sad for example!” And you know what? It works really well! The trigger is different, but the process and especially the reward remain the same:
Being sad – Eating food (reward) – Feeling good…Repeating.
Why is it happening? To understand that, let’s dig a bit into our brain: there is a zone, called the prefrontal cortex (front part of the Neocortex), which is responsible for our rational behavior and cognitive control.
Unfortunately, when we are stressed, this zone completely “switches off”(!), leaving the whole joy of action to another part of your brain, the most primitive one, called the Reptilian brain and responsible for our instincts and unconscious behavior.
By its essence, this process is vital, allowing us for example to remove our hand from a hot pot without even thinking about it, acting with only our survival instinct.However, in our case, this mechanism plays against us! Trying to get rid of a given habit, we are trying to control our instinctive behavior, which, under pressure (happening quite often in our daily life..) falls apart completely!
So, the solution Judson Brewer suggests, efficiency of which was proven by his research, is actually to stop forcing yourself and in contrary, start doing things in a mindful way! His study demonstrated that listening to our body and to our feelings might become an amazing brake to any negative habit!
This solution is not magic stick of course, but it can become a good support, in case of the fight against a bad habit, in becoming “disenchanted” by it.
And this is what mindfulness is all about! Get aware, on the visceral level, about what you are doing and feeling!
At the end, getting curious about its own body and becoming attentive to signals it sends to us can help everybody in his/her own health management.
So next time you feel the urge to get back to your bad habit, just add another step to the “vicious circle”:
Notice the urge – Get curious – Feel the joy of letting go – Repeat
And get happier! 😉
P.S.: If you want to watch the whole video, it is just here: