What Experts Say About Forming New, Positive Habits
It’s better to form a new habit than to declare a New Year’s resolution according to behavioral experts. Our brains are hardwired against change, so people will struggle to fulfill their declarations in 2023 like any other year. Breaking bad habits can be hard. That’s why starting new, healthier habits may be a better solution. The issue is that forming new habits is its own social science and an arduous undertaking. Those who succeed in addiction recovery, however, often do so by adopting certain habits.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
Jeremy Campbell is the CEO at Black Isle Group, a performance improvement consulting firm. Campbell told Fast Company that your brain works against you when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. This matters even if you don’t have any resolutions this year because it speaks to a broader problem. We struggle to know how to make ourselves live the way we want or know we should.
“We’re still very prehistoric in terms of how we’re wired,” Campbell explained. “We’re programmed to be more negative and to find reasons not to do things. We often rely upon motivation, and motivation runs out usually after two or three weeks. That’s why New Year’s resolutions often don’t work.”
This is a fundamental understanding of will power or the lack thereof. Campbell went on to explain that habits are more powerful than resolutions. Resolutions are goal-oriented, which is good, but they’re task-ignorant. That means people focus on the objective without concentrating on the steps necessary to get there. If those steps became habits, however, the goal would eventually be achieved.
The Potential Impact of Well Formed Habits
Some habits can often develop without any particular goal in mind. Obviously, people form habits by accident all the time. These habits can have positive or negative effects on life all by themselves. In fact, the following routines commonly have a positive impact on the way people live.
- Be physically active everyday.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruit everyday.
- Get enough sleep and eat breakfast.
- Switch to low-fat (1% or less) milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Do something healthy everyday that makes you feel good.
- Drink water instead of soda or juice.
These are really just actions to take. These are habits that often correlate with “better vibes,” so to speak, for various reasons. The body feeling better means neurochemistry is different. You’ll automatically be happier that way. This is why well executed addiction treatment will even involve dietary guidance.
But Forming Habits Is Hard, Though
You can reach a goal if you establish habits that would inherently fulfill the objective. Contemporary research on the unconscious informs how habits can be successfully implemented. In fact, most of our daily functioning is unconscious and automatic according to a 2019 book, “The Unconscious: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications,” co-authored by Drs. Joel Weinberger and Valentina Stoycheva.
“Often when trying to develop a new habit, we make the mistake of approaching it through a limiting viewpoint,” Stoycheva told Psychology Today. “A more effective strategy is to try to find something that is already positively charged about the behavior you are attempting to develop.”
The problem, Dr. Stoycheva pointed out, was that by telling ourselves we “should” do something, we charge that desired habit with negative emotions in our mind. “Should” is a want or a need, and admitting need to the unconscious focuses it on the notion of lack, which conjures negative emotions. Remember: the fight against relapse during recovery is really about emotional self-control.
Psyche Yourself Out of Bad Habits
Instead, Dr. Stoycheva recommends finding something related about which you already feel good. Focusing on that part will compel you to take action out of enjoyment. You may not feel like working out until someone else points out that you lift more than they do or that you run faster. Then, you feel like working out not because you “should” but because you’re comparatively good at it.
This is a matter of pairing one stimulus to another, which stems from an established behavioral theory. When you’re in recovery, it’s natural to hate abstinence. If you associate certain things with being drug-free, however, doing those things is likely to make your abstinence successful.
For instance, you might view people in suits as people who don’t use drugs or people who attend church as people who don’t drink. Of course, many addicts wear suits, and many alcoholics go to church, but what matters is your own perception. Putting on a suit may make you feel like you already conquered addiction. Going to church might trick the brain into believing you don’t drink. You’re conditioning yourself.
Don’t Be Averse to Seeking Help for An Addiction
None of this is to say that all you need to do is form a habit to quit using. There’s a bad habit you need to eliminate first. Not only is your brain hardwired against change in general but also this habit may be chemically programmed in your brain, depending on what substance has its hold on you.