Bad habits are easy to establish and hard to break. When people think about them, they think of things like nail biting, smoking or checking your phone every two minutes. However, you can also develop them in the way that you think about and react to different situations. These problematic thoughts and inappropriate reactions can be detrimental to your health, personal life and professional life.
Developing Bad Habits
The human brain can be thought of as the most complex supercomputer imaginable. This remarkable organ houses approximately 100 billion neurons connected via 1,000 trillion synapses. The incredible complexity of the brain is what has allowed humans not just to survive, but to thrive. Unfortunately, its intricacy can easily fall victim to little blips and its drive to form ‘shortcuts’ to save on processing power, can sometimes result in the development of bad habits.
The striatum is a region found deep inside the brain that appears to be vital in the formation of habits. Dr Ann Graybiel has devoted much of her professional life to research in this area. She has found that when performing an action, your prefrontal cortex (the centre for action planning) communicates with the striatum (important for movement) to enact the necessary behaviour.
When a behaviour is repeated over time, input from the prefrontal cortex can fade and be replaced by ‘loops’ that link the striatum to the sensorimotor cortex. With the help of memory circuits, these ‘loops’ let us carry out actions without thinking about them. This can be a brilliant shortcut, but you can also see how this can lead to bad habits forming.
In a sense, it’s like being on autopilot. We are not consciously deciding to carry out these actions, but our brains have wired themselves to do so without us being aware of giving them. But it’s not just physical actions that this can be applied to, this can also occur as habitual thought patterns.
So, why is this a problem?
Let’s go back to the aforementioned bad habits of nail biting, smoking or checking your phone every two minutes. Biting your nails damages your skin, increases your risk of infection and spreads germs from your fingers to your mouth. Smoking increases your risk of cancer and it makes your clothes, hair and hands smell unpleasant. Checking your phone every two minutes is rude when in company, can make you miss important things and has been linked to higher levels of stress.
If your manner of thinking constitutes a negative habit you may find yourself struggling with your mental health, experiencing anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, fits of anger and lack of motivation.
For example, you overhear your name being mentioned by someone at work and you assume they are talking about you negatively. This results in you becoming stressed and self-conscious. The more this occurs, the more these ‘loops’ solidify, leading you to jump to this conclusion easily and more frequently. You have rewired your brain to immediately accept this assumption as fact. Changing these thought patterns is hugely difficult, but fortunately, this is where Dr Jan comes in.
Breaking Bad Habits
The best way to rid yourself of bad habits is to become consciously aware of them. This stops your brain from going into autopilot and performing the action or having certain thoughts outside of your conscious awareness. Each time you manage this, you are chipping away at those established neural loops. You could even work to replace these negative actions or thoughts with positive ones!
Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. Becoming aware of habitual actions such as nail biting is tricky, but at least in this situation you are physically moving and others can point it out to you to help you stop. Identifying negative thought patterns is more difficult, but it can be done.
Contact Dr Jan For Help
If you need help to become aware of and retrain your way of thinking, Dr Jan is the perfect person to contact. His life coaching can break old patterns and result in you becoming happier, healthier and able to fulfil your full potential.
The first thing to do is book your FREE discovery call. In this consultation, he will get to know more about you, what you are struggling with and begin to formulate a plan to help you.