The Promise of Change in the Face of Addiction
How many times have we comforted ourselves with some reassuring words when we make a mistake, only to find ourselves continuing to repeat the same patterns over and over? No one ever said it was going to be easy. This is never more evident than in the cycles of addiction.
Positive mantras and a determined spirit are both very beneficial; don’t get me wrong. But in order to make a lasting change, we have to re-program our hardwiring, and that is going to require a lot of grunt work!
To understand how to cultivate good habits, we first must understand what we’re really working with. Our brains are, in essence, a certain type of plastic, meaning they’re malleable. This is called neuroplasticity. Our brains change based on our actions.
When we do something a lot, say watching television, this digs deep grooves in to the brain. We watch and feel comfort, excitement, fear, and sadness. This stimulates us so we do it again. Watch, reward. Watch, reward. This digs the groove deeper and deeper ultimately creating a habit. A message travels through this groove that says “I will do this and get a reward”. Without exerting effort, our brains follow this program knowing there is a prize waiting at the end. Subconsciously we begin to crave these prizes. Once those grooves are etched, it can feel near impossible to shift gears. In the mind of an addict, these messages will play on a loop. The brain craves the good feeling, whether it’s eating, drugs, or physical connection.
When we are young, our brains are soft and ready to be programmed. Change at this age is relatively easy, because there are so few patterns in place. But as we get older, our brains become more rigid, fixed. This is not to say it becomes impossible by any stretch, it just means you’re going to have to work a little harder.
Change is all about repetition. We must repeat a process over and over again for it to become a habit. The older our brains are, the longer it takes to establish. When we promise ourselves we will never repeat a mistake again, we are often setting ourselves up for disappointment. The word “never” is typically a very dangerous word that often leads to certain defeat. What we should say is “I’m going to work to create a healthier pattern” and then actually conceive an alternative.
Creating a new habit is a goal best taken in small steps and performed over and over again. This is how lasting change is nurtured. If you’re serious about breaking out of your old programming, you must be diligent in cultivating new habits by repeating a desired pattern every day. You will find in time that it becomes easier and easier until you barely have to think about it at all. The good news is that positives can be ingrained as habits just as the negatives can. It just takes some perseverance and determination!
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