I thought I’d start my blog with the topic of habits. Habits are something that everyone has and begins very early in life. Just think about a typical day. You wake up and start your day with habits, how you get up, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, dress, travel to work, when you have your breaks, lunch, location as well as who you eat with, when you leave work, the route you travel home, and then what you like to eat. Most activities are accomplished almost on automatic pilot. Why? Because these routines have rewarded and served you well. They are nature’s way to allow us to act quickly in response to routine events. This convenience comes at a price, because we are acting without really, really thinking about what we are doing, we aren’t in full control of our actions. Habits, once in place, are very difficult to break.
But, as we have good habits, many of us have habits that give immediate pleasure but cause our health to suffer. Eating too much, drinking too much, taking illicit drugs, smoking, and gambling are the most common habits that plague people. With more technology, newer “habits” include spending excessive amounts on the computer with games, or being unable to put the cellular phone down.
All of these habits have one thing in common. Whatever cue is linked to the activity, whether it be a specific food, the smell of smoke, or the co-activity with smoking, such as smoking while in a bar, or the sound of the gambling machine spitting out money, actually activates the dopamine system in the brain. It is the classical conditioned response, which generated a predictable response. Each time this cue is stimulated and the reward is given, the strength of the cue becomes harder and harder to break.
The ugly part is that the power of the habit will continue unless there is a conscious effort in overriding the engrained system. The old adage, “just use your willpower” just doesn’t work.
In future blogs, I’ll discuss reversing the habits.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay focused.