Habits never go away. They are with us forever. This is because habits are formed over many years by repetitive behavior. A habit is nothing more than a series of brain cells (neurons) that have wired together. Once the wiring occurs, the habit if formed and it never goes away. But there is a way to fool the brain into disengaging in a habit that is not serving you well. To stop yourself from engaging in a bad habit, you must avoid the environmental triggers that set the habit in motion.
For example, let’s say you have a habit of eating popcorn every time you go to the movie theatre. You promise yourself that the next time you go to the movie theatre you will not eat popcorn. But the moment you enter the theatre you feel that compulsion to buy popcorn. So what do you do? You avoid going to movie theaters. You change your environment.
Through the exercise of willpower, you are able to forge new habits. But just because you have forged a good habit, it does not mean that the adverserial old bad habit has been erased. It’s still there. Ready to pounce and re-engage, when the time is ripe. An example would be engaging in daily aerobic exercise. Let’s say you’ve taken up jogging. It’s been six months of jogging for 20-30 minutes a day for you. You feel great and you look great. Then you get sick and you’re unable to jog for a week. Or, you experience a death in the family and are unable to jog for a week. Or, you are forced to travel for a week for work and you are unable to find the time to jog that week. In short, some life event takes you off your new good habit for a week. What happens? The adverserial old habit, not exercising, is re-engaged. Because this old habit of not exercising has been with you far longer than the new habit, it is still far more powerful. When you return after a week off from exercise, it has woken up and now fights to stay awake.
What do you do? When you are forced to disengage from a new good habit, such as jogging every day, the only way to re-engage that habit is to start small. You don’t want to go to battle with the old bad habit. You want to fool it into thinking it is still re-engaged and dominant. When you return from that week off, go for a 5 minute jog. The second day try 10 minutes. By day three, your new good habit will awaken and you will be back to jogging 20-30 minutes a day. Your old bad habit will fall back to sleep, anxiously waiting for the next opportunity. Re-engaging a new good habit requires taking baby steps.
I have issues with money. I hate money. I always feel like I never have enough money. I am constantly worrying about money. Anyone have these thoughts? I do. So do hundreds of millions of people. How do you stop these thoughts from ruining your day and creating stress in your life? To change bad thinking habits you must repetitively engage in good thinking habits. For example, the next time a negative money thought enters your head, say one or all of the following:
- I am grateful for the car I have. It runs well and it makes my life so much easier.
- I am grateful for the house I have. I am putting a roof over the heads of my kids. I am proud that I have a house where my kids are warm and safe.
- I am grateful for the paycheck that was just deposited into my bank account. It enables me to have this great car and allows me to afford the house we live in. I am grateful for every paycheck I receive.
Most of our money issues stem from being raised in a family that struggled financially. All of the fights, arguments and stress that we witnessed from our parents inability to make ends meet acts like scar tissue on the brain. That is, any emotional event, good or bad, forms the most lasting memories. Oftentimes, long-term memories give birth to certain beliefs, such as, I never have enough money. The only way to change beliefs formed in our upbringing is to become aware of those thinking habits, change your thinking and then track your new good thinking until it becomes a habit. Did I express gratitude for three things today? Put that on your to do list or on a bathroom mirror for 2 months to make sure you engage in that thinking. After a few months you will find yourself automatically engaging in the new thinking habit without any to do list or notes on the mirror.