By Donna Gates, as seen on:
Our habits are activities that are so often repeated that they have become part of our unconscious. They allow us to run on autopilot. Because of the habits that we have acquired, we are able to move through the day without strategizing every step along the way.
When it comes to driving a car or preparing dinner, habits help everything run a little smoother.
What do you do when you feel you have picked up bad habits? When you know something is unhealthy, but it still overruns your thoughts and takes over your behavior.
With many of my clients, at the root of any major dietary shift are at least one or two unhealthy habits. Oftentimes, these habits were formed very early in childhood.
As children, we absorb our surroundings whether they are healthy or unhealthy. This means things like:
- The home environment
- The stories that our family members believe in and play out
- The language that our parents use
At this point in life, information is stored at a subconscious level. We become hardwired to carry on as our parents have. If there has been trauma early in life, we are hardwired to constantly relive the trauma. Unless, of course, we decide to generate change.
Old Habits Die Hard
This is because the area of the brain where many habits are formed, called the basal ganglia, remembers pathways that nerves fire on. This region of the brain is responsible for things like habit formation, addiction and step-by-step learning.
As a new habit is learned, the neurons in this region of the brain form new connections and change their firing pattern.
Once the new pattern is learned, the old habit becomes like a well-traveled road that has fallen out of use. This is one reason why habits can be so difficult to break: even after years, the right trigger will set a broken habit pattern into motion.
The good news is that once we learn a new, healthy habit, it develops the same long-term connections. For better or worse, research has found that once a habit pathway in the basal ganglia is in place, it is firmly ingrained.
When letting go of unhealthy habits, it is always a good idea to find a new, healthy habit to replace it with.
Give yourself 90 days if you are serious. At 90 days, a new habit has been fully integrated. This means that pathways have been set up in the basal ganglia and that the action runs on autopilot.
The benefit of dropping unhealthy habits is that we no longer run old programs that negatively affect our perspective, our health or our quality of life.
This can be a powerful experience.
In fact, as you take control and responsibility for your life, you may find that changing one habit is enough to change your life.
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