How to Break Bad Habits and Create Better Ones
Habits ultimately determine your destiny. More recent studies have even shown that habits, the act of conducting a task over and over again, may even affect our brain physically. Yet few of us are aware of the our habits, how they are formed and how to create or break them.
In this article, I’ll explain how the brain forms a habit, how you can break old ones and how to create new ones. Let’s get started.
The most accepted hypothesis on how our brain works today is called “Hebbian Learning”. The first principle of Hebbian Learning is that neurons that fire together, wire together by creating what is called “synapses”. The second principle is that the more these neurons fire together, the stronger the synapses become.
As synapses become stronger, the firing of one neuron will result in the firing on those in its network.
Let’s take walking as an example. When a toddler learns how to walk, he/she wobbles. His actions seem exaggerated and he looks as if ready to fall anytime soon. This is because the neurons responsible for walking have not wire together as strongly as it’s needed to walk like an adult.
But as the toddler practice (thus firing those neurons repeatedly), the synapses strengthens and soon he/she is able Synapse xt to walk like we do.
Once those synapses are formed, an unconscious habit is formed. Thus walking is an unconscious effort for most of us. You don’t need to consciously think of which leg to put forward and which hand to swing.
In a way, you’ve just formed a habit.
The same principle applies to any habits. Some teenagers watch porn on a daily basis and thus form strong synapses that link porn to sexual gratification. When this happens, meaningful relationships and monogamy appears boring and no longer satisfies him/her.
Another common “addiction” is stress. Yes, most of us are addicted to stress and being busy. Here, try this: Sit down, close your eyes and meditate for 30 minutes. Think of nothing. Most of us couldn’t focus on one task at a time, preferring instead to multitask, let alone sit and think of nothing.
This is why meditation is so difficult for most people – because we’ve formed a habit to be busy. Our mind wanders constantly – even when we are asleep.
By living in sort of “addiction” and because habits are mostly unconscious, you’re depriving the neurons in your frontal lobe, the part of your brain where you consciousness resides, of the opportunity to fire.
This leads to a variety of cognitive decline – such as the ability to learn. Because the flip side of the Hebbian Learning coin is that neurons that no longer fire together, no longer wire together.
Thus as a toddler, we were able to walk because we practiced. But as we move into classrooms and offices, you spend less and less time walking, resulting in the loss of the ability to walk and balance in many older people. This is true even if they physiologically able to walk.
To break a habit, you must first realize why your brain creates synapses. The point of the synapses is to make whatever tasks that you often engage in more effective (use less energy to achieve the same result). When it becomes more effective, it becomes easier and thus we choose to do it again – thus forming a loop.
So how can we break a habit? Make the habit undesirable (in other words, less effective)! You can do this by actively overriding a reactive decision (thus weakening a habit’s synapse).