You can (and should) kick your bad habits in the rear

By Bliss Streeks, Opinions Writer

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We all have a vice, an addiction of some kind. For you it might be coffee, for your friend it might be sugar or doughnuts. For someone else it might be Netflix or Dr. Phil. The human brain is designed to thrive in a ritualistic environment, meaning an environment in which there is a routine present every day. We are habit forming creatures, and those habits that we form can be challenging to break.

A lot of those habits aren’t unhealthy and therefore we don’t even refer to them as an “addiction,” a word that has a negative connotation. Such as taking a shower every day, using the same kind of shampoo, and never straying from our favorite brand of toothpaste. All of these habits are harmless.

What about habits that are holding us back from meeting our true potential though? Habits like smoking too many cigarettes or drinking in excess as a means to escape from life? How are habits like these formed? If you understand the psychology behind it, do you have a better chance at overcoming it?

Habits are cued by a trigger to your five senses. For example, as a teenager if you hear the words, “It’s time for school, get up and get ready!” you respond with the need to shower, do your makeup, or pick out your clothes and get dressed. Or if you wake up and hear your alarm, smell breakfast being made, or see the news on television, you may be triggered to begin getting ready according to the habits you have formed.

Therefore, when you are trying to create a new habit, it can be challenging because the same cues that triggered the habit you are trying to replace are still present. In a study where participants were asked to start new habits in their diet and exercise routines, people found it difficult to change habits without taking a lot of preparation to not only change their habit but to change the triggers of their previous ‘bad’ habits. It was also necessary that they find a new habit that could fit into their current life or routine.

One participant who first tried to integrate walking for exercise but failed said, “The walking thing, for me . . . it just didn’t work. It didn’t fit in with the job that I’m doing, which is why I started cycling to the station in the morning and home again.”

Rather than give up, he modified his exercise goal to one that was more compatible with his current daily routine. People are not naturally inclined to change their habits unless…what? Well, one peer reviewed journal discusses the effect that empathy has on a human’s desire to change. Empathy is extremely effective when executed correctly at catapulting our emotions, throwing us off balance, and eliciting the desire to be something other than what we currently are.

A journal titled Transforming Habit: Revolution, routine, and social change states, “transformation…depends on a radical affective break, a rupture of consciousness that acts as a catalyst for creating personal and collective change.”

That being said, if you have been wanting to kick your smoking habit, or start exercising more often but you just can’t seem to get yourself to actually start doing it, there is an answer backed by research. Try reading an article that will elicit an empathetic response from you, shatter your previous way of thinking, and push you into changing because of your newfound perspective.

For example, a few years back I was a very unhealthy eater. I began to feel the negative effects of my childhood diet in my early 20s, and I decided to investigate nutrition.

The catalyst for me was a documentary on Netflix called “Forks Over Knives.” I couldn’t eat refined white sugar ever again after what I saw in the documentary.
So try doing research. You do have the ability to outsmart your brain if you understand how it works. Don’t let your brain control you, because you rock and you are in charge.