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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.: Jan 22nd 2014
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One Trick to Break Bad Habits
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.: Wed, Jan 22nd 2014
There’s a famous little phrase that people often say just before they fall into a bad habit. For sake of saving the profanity, we’ll just call it “the flip its.” This handy phrase gets us in all kinds of trouble, from defaulting to being a couch potato, to taking that extra drink, to sex without a condom and even in more subtle ways like checking our phones while driving. But we can take this handy little phrase and use it to break bad habits too.
A habit is something that has a cue, a routine and a reward. The reward of saying “flip it” is obvious, we get that instant gratification. One way to begin breaking bad habits is to use turn that thought into a cue itself so when you notice it; it breaks you out of the routine of autopilot and into a space of awareness to make a different choice.
If you’ve followed my work you have heard me quote Viktor Frankl many times and this shouldn’t be an exception:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Naming the “flip it” when it’s there allows for a space to widen between our awareness and the thought itself that is the impetus behind the behavioral bad habit that is about to follow.
From a neuroscience point of view, research has shown that when we are able to name an emotion, activity in the emotional center of the brain decreases while activity in our rational brain increases.
This is exactly what we want when it comes to breaking bad habits.
What’s key here is to prepare for moments like this. What other choices do you have before downing that pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Maybe you’re brain is searching for relief, can a 20 minute walk give you that? Maybe your brain is searching for connection? Can a call to a good friend give you that?
Experimenting with swapping out bad habits with healthier habits that may provide the underlying reward the brain is working for is worthwhile.
That doesn’t mean you’ll never eat Ben and Jerry’s again, it just means that you move more in the direction of being truly happy.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.