Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Leave a comment

The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 
Advertisements


1 Comment

The Only 3 Choices To Make When You Want To Be Happy

by Cheryl Paige     December 4, 2015 

She looked at me and said, “It doesn’t matter what I do; I can’t change it.” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard words like this leave a friend’s mouth, but it was the first time since I had experienced some awakenings of my own.

I used to feel, as my friend did, that my life was happening to me. The belief that we don’t get to chart the course of our lives was deeply ingrained in our subconsciouses, which makes us feel totally powerless, leading to frustration and unhappiness.

But recently in my own life, I’d realized the truth. While we can’t control what happens to us, we are the only people who can control how we react to those situations.

We can react from a place of victimhood, throw our hands up in the air and say, “It doesn’t matter what I do.” But this makes us feel trapped — like there’s a wall between what we want and where we are, with no escape in sight. Victimhood contributes to bitterness and sadness.

Sometimes we flail and scream, and sometimes we resign ourselves limply to the inevitable, but at no time do we take transformative action in our lives, take back the reins, or assert that we are the captains of our own ships.

What some people never realize is that the true cause of our unhappiness is the belief that we have no control.

Tree happiness

Breaking free of that belief is a prerequisite to happiness. Here are seven things happy people believe:

1. We choose our responses to every situation.

2. We are the authors of our stories.

3. We always have a choice.

4. Life’s trials are the most crucial periods in which to affirm your autonomy over your life. Hold on tight to that.

5. Welcoming hardship comes from the belief that struggles are not happening to us, but for us.

6. Those struggles are the most efficient conduit by which we learn and grow.

7. In any undesirable circumstance, there are three — and only three — happiness-promoting responses:

1. Accept and embrace the situation for what it is.

If we’re in a job that we aren’t happy with and we choose to embrace it, we no longer complain, commiserate with friends, bemoan our situation, or find ways to rebel. We actively make the best of it, every day.

2. Change the situation.

If we stick with the job example, changing the situation can look like having a conversation with the boss, implementing new ideas for a more satisfying work experience, etc. It means making the decision to stay in the situation while working to make it better.

3. Leave the situation.

If we choose to leave the situation, we quit the job and move to another one. Make this decision not out of frustration or desperation but after calm, measured consideration about what will make you happiest in the long term.

All of these options, each as much as the others, has you in the driver’s seat. No, we can’t control what life throws at us. But we get to decide how we’ll react to it. This is your ship! You get to steer. So start charting your course.


1 Comment

5 Ways To Turn Weakness Into Willpower

As Oscar Wilde once said: “I can resist anything except temptation.”

That’s something most of us can relate to. If you’re not one of us, then well done.

For the rest of us, though, there will come a time when we need to ‘not’ do something we want to do. Don’t smoke that cigarette, don’t eat that cake, or skip the soda!

As nice as life is, it is often one long list of temptations that need to be avoided. So what do we do when we are having trouble saying “no” or are fearful of trying something new? We dig deep for the willpower to push us through. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

TO HELP US OUT, HERE ARE FIVE WAYS TO STRENGTHEN OUR WILLPOWER:

1. PLAN THE OUTCOME

In the words of Greg S. Reid: “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”

There are three critical components of that statement:

  • Writing it down.
  • Breaking it down.
  • Taking action.

We are often guilty of short-term thinking, only seeing what is in front of us. Instead, we should be looking at a bigger picture. So start by writing it down. It will help you become crystal clear about the direction you want to head. Then break it down into manageable parts, so the big goal seems attainable. Then, find the willpower within to take the first step and when you do, your willpower will grow stronger. It’s like a muscle, and it gets better with exercise. So exercise it!

2. AVOID IT!

Avoid situations where there is a need to make tough decisions. Tough decisions will deplete willpower fast. For example, a person who wishes to stop drinking would do well to avoid bars for a while. However, hanging out at the juice bar at the gym will help strengthen willpower, because there isn’t a difficult choice to make.

choice

 

3. REWARD YOURSELF.

Yes, when we do good things we like to be rewarded. Collect the money saved from not buying that packet of cigarettes. Collect in a jar and keep it visible. After a period, take the money and splurge on something frivolous like a spa day or new pair of boots. Like any other goals you have written down, focus on them, visualize them and embed that picture in your mind, permanently.

You strengthen your willpower when you remain focused on positive results. Draw on those feelings of success when faced with difficult choices, and you’re more likely to choose wisely.

4. BE ACCOUNTABLE.

Accountability partners are a great way to strengthen our willpower because we are more likely to do what we are supposed to do when we have to report back to someone. The added benefit is we get to call on the willpower of our partner when our willpower is lacking. Friends can achieve a lot together; that’s why they’re friends, and everyone can find a friend or a colleague who has similar goals.

Look at it another way; there is a reason that ‘clubs’ are popular, things like gyms, weight watchers, etc.  They will keep us honest, grounded, and moving forward.  Now, you don’t necessarily need to join a club; just gather a few friends and set up an accountability group.

5. STAY THE COURSE.

If there have been times in the past when we have fallen at the feet of temptation, remember those times and gather strength from them. We should never, ever, take our eye off the prize. Think about it; what changed?  Was it:

The goal? Unlikely.

The dream holiday? Unlikely.

The dream dress we’re trying to squeeze into? Unlikely.

Any other goal? Unlikely.

Instead, we probably gave in to temptation once, then twice, then three times and soon realized we failed. So we gave up. We will continue to fail until the time we don’t and that time maybe the next time.

Making change is hard. In fact, we are designed to resist change. So it might be unrealistic to think we can get there on the first try. But with each try and a clear focus on the goal, you will build the willpower to keep trying until you get it right.

Face it, without a little failure we would have no stories to tell or lessons to learn. Think once again about the goal and measure the triumphs one step at a time. When we stay the course, make a plan, avoid situations that will make things more challenging, find some friends, and then reward ourselves for each step, we will soon learn the day of achieving our big goals is closer than we think.