You’ve had dinner, the dishes are cleaned, the kids are in bed, the house is quiet, but for the television droning in the background, and once again, you’ve gotten up and headed to the refrigerator.
Opening the refrigerator door, you bend down and peer inside only to feel annoyed with yourself. This is your second trip, maybe your third to find something to satisfy that nagging feeling that propels you off the couch and into the kitchen.
- Are you hungry?
- Are you bored?
- Is anxiety or depression sending you to the fridge?
Or maybe it’s simply become a habit.
The problem is, there is nothing simple about habits. They are formed by repetition. First, we get a trigger, which leads to a behavior, and then the reward.
For instance, a few years back, I was on my way home from the barn. I was getting hungry and knew that it would be a while before I could cook a meal, so I stopped at the store, thinking I’d grab an apple or banana. I wanted something that wouldn’t ruin my appetite.
As I walked into the store, that stack of chips and other junk food the stores tempt us with loomed ahead. As I approached the chips, my mouth started to water, and I could already taste the salt. I was hungry enough to grab a bag of Kettle Chips that I munched as I drove home.
Before I knew it, I was stopping at the store regularly to purchase Kettle Chips. They became a bad habit. I would tell myself no, and then do it anyway. I would go so far as to buy the bag, eat some of the chips, reprimand myself, and toss the bag as far out of reach as I could.
When I arrived home, I’d crush the bag of chips and throw them in the trash before I even made it to the front door. Crushing the chips and tossing them out assured me I wouldn’t eat any more of them and briefly solved my problem. The reality was that the chips were a band-aid to the real problem and created another issue—disappointment in myself for not stopping what had become an annoying and unhealthy habit.
How habits are formed –
Emotions, memories, and pattern recognition occur in the basal ganglia, located at the base of the forebrain and the top of the midbrain. The prefrontal cortex, a section of the frontal cortex, is where decision-making processes, impulse control, focusing attention and adjusting complex behaviors are made.
When emotions are running high, the basal ganglia are trying to make you feel better, so the prefrontal cortex goes on hiatus as the basal ganglia take over, and your habit is formed.
Some habits are easier to change than others. Brushing your teeth is a great habit; leaving your dirty clothes all over the bedroom would be considered a mild and easily adjusted habit. A moderate habit would be drinking or overeating when out socializing. A solid or addictive habit such as smoking, drinking, or overeating regularly is hard-wired and will take a lot more effort to change.
Breaking a habit –
The key to breaking habits is to discover the patterns associated with the habit. So, identifying the triggers, an anniversary date (losses or trauma), pain, overwhelm, family issues, ending of a relationship, bullying, smells, tastes, noises, etc., is the first step. Then you’ll want to examine the patterns that show up.
- What are you feeling?
- What time of day is it?
- Where are you at?
- Are there other people with you?
- Is it before, during, or after something else?
With my example, I was hungry. I was seeking a healthy snack, but instead, I purchased chips, and they became the outward habit of what was eating at me on the inside. Once I examined the triggers and patterns, I formulated a plan for a new habit. Although I knew what I needed to do to break the habit, I wasn’t expecting resistance to the change.
Resistance to change –
If you resist the change, discouragement and undervaluing yourself can set in.
Paralysis can take over, and before you know it, you might just resign yourself to the idea that you’ll never change, and without change, we can’t grow as a person; we remain stagnant.
I’ve addressed resistance to change in a previous blog post that you can access here. In the blog post, you’ll also find some tips on helping you to break a habit you no longer wish to hold on to.
If you’d like some assistance in breaking a habit and formulating a plan to create a new habit, feel free to book a complimentary call with me.
In Love and Health,