Do you smoke, vapour? Eat too much at night? Or do you have a couple of drinks at night “to relieve stress”? You yourself know very well that you should get rid of such a habit, but how? Let’s use the neuropsychologist’s neuropsychological tips that allow you to “negotiate” with your brain.
Old habits are thought to be hard to break, but that’s not always the case, says clinical neuropsychologist Kendal Maxwell. “As a neuropsychologist, I have worked with a wide variety of patients – some with unimpaired mental abilities, others suffering from the effects of brain injuries or progressive dementia,” says the expert. – This clinical experience allowed me to understand a lot about human behaviour, how our habits change – and how we can change them in a targeted way.
WHAT IS A HABIT?
A habit is a pattern of behaviour that we have learned so well that it requires little or no mental effort. “Many people feel like they are in control of some harmful habit if they are aware of its harm. I call this the illusion of choice. Any action that requires substantially less effort on our part than the alternatives can be considered a habit,” Maxwell argues.
But why are bad habits so hard to get rid of? It has a lot to do with the mechanisms of our brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is produced when we do something we enjoy. Our brain quickly fixes the association between the action and the pleasure, we want to repeat the action over and over again – this is how the habit is formed.
Research shows that the strength of this habit (or even addiction) is largely determined by how quickly we get a “dose” of dopamine after a certain action. This is why we are particularly susceptible to habits that allow us to maximise our pleasure as quickly as possible.
For example, when we’re bored and reach for our phone, the dopamine content of our brain jumps up dramatically. We could go for a walk instead, because deep down we know it would be healthier. But going for a walk, while enjoyable, doesn’t cause such a sharp and rapid dopamine spike, and so we’re more likely to stay at home watching the news, messages and notifications on our phones.
5 TIPS TO HELP KICK BAD HABITS
It’s important to realise that you can get rid of any habit, or at least significantly lessen its impact. Here are a few recommendations from Kendall Maxwell.
1. Treat changing habits as an experiment
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t try to change everything at once and concentrate on one thing at first. Remind yourself that you can always go back to your old way of life if you want to, say after a month. But maybe in that month you will have learnt to control your habit better and won’t want to go back to the old one. Why not give it a try?
2. Analyse your habits and behaviours before making any changes
Before you start making changes, it is important to take stock of what you already know about yourself. To do this, you should first answer the simplest of questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? The more you know about your habit and patterns of behaviour, the easier it will be for you to realise in advance that you are ready to ‘snap’.
This is where a diary can be very helpful. Keeping a diary disciplines us and at the same time gives us a way to track our progress. A diary will help us to better understand our “triggers” – what triggers us most often? At what times are we particularly drawn to unhealthy patterns of behaviour?
3. Remember how important proper preparation is
It is important not only to prepare yourself psychologically for change, but also to prepare the environment. For example, try to eliminate from your environment everything that may remind you of the habit we are trying to get rid of (this may be unhealthy food or drinks, coffee, cigarettes or anything else).
4. Designate a person to supervise you
Research shows that having a “controller” increases our chances of successfully changing established habits. This role can be filled by a relative, partner, friend or therapist. If you can’t find such a person, you can control yourself with the help of special websites or apps.
5. Do not give up because of failures and breakdowns
We are all imperfect, and change is always hard, especially when it comes to established habits. If there is a “breakdown” or a return to an old habitual pattern of behaviour, it is important not to get discouraged or discouraged, but to try to learn from what happened and move on. Ask yourself: “What can I do differently to prevent this from happening again?”. The better you understand yourself, the easier the change will be!