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Breaking Habits Can Feel So Challenging

by Laura Nalin, MA, P-LPC, CADC

Habits play important roles in our lives, but not all of the ones we employ daily are good for us. Habits are developed through repetition, some of which, while small, can make the world of a difference. Habits such as waking up and making the bed, brushing your teeth, and locking the door to your home are all forms of habit. However, less helpful habits such as waking up and scrolling through social media, procrastinating throughout the day, and frivolously spending are examples of ways we may be self sabotaging without intention.

Our brains use the same mechanisms to build both kinds of habits. However, due to the fact that dopamine is released during more pleasurable habits, it can make those harder to break. Our brain’s reward system is not easily hijacked when it comes to habit forming, which is why habits such as overeating, use of drugs or alcohol, compulsive use of social media, and smoking can be difficult to kick. By repeating a behavior in which dopamine is released, our brains fuse this with a ‘reward,’ which can hardwire our brains to crave the release of dopamine time and time again. We as humans are resilient, and capable of great change regardless of any difficulties that stand in our way.

We are capable of combating urges to fall into unhealthy habits and create new ones - it just takes a little extra effort and brain power. Here are some ways to create new habits that are in alignment with your highest good:

Practice awareness

By identifying any current habits that are no longer serving you, this brings awareness to the issue and can allow you to get on track in a more structured way. One way to do this is create a list of behaviors that you’d like to change in one column, and list several realistic goals you have for yourself that can assist you in forming new habits. For example, if you are finding yourself reaching for a bottle of wine or a bag of chips late at night to decompress more than you’d like, identify other ways you can occupy your time that would both benefit and stimulate your mind. Maybe this looks like journaling or thought tracking; maybe it’s a quick meditation. If you want to stop opening your phone to Instagram or TikTok upon awakening, maybe your new habit can be making yourself a cup of coffee or tea or taking the time to mentally or physically create a gratitude list. All of the latter are ways to create dopamine within your brain, but aren’t as quick of a fix. Ultimately, those healthier habits can fall into place in time, though.

Allow room for mistakes

Breaking habits can feel really challenging! The way our brains are wired to crave immediate results, particularly in this day and age, can deter us from actualizing our goals. We are all imperfect humans, and the road to our highest selves will inevitably be rocky from time to time. As any slip ups arise, be patient with yourself, continue to stay on your path, and the rewards will come.

What habits are you wanting to leave behind in 2022 and which ones are you looking to introduce in this new year?



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