It’s Habit Forming

By Savaughn Vasconcelos (Correspondent)

Our habits make us who we are. From something as minor as swearing to more extreme situations such as drug addiction, our habits control what we do.

Habits are simple — there are good ones and there are bad ones, and these habits can make or break us.

According to Dr. Carol Morgan, a relationship and success expert,‘triggers’ cause us to create habits, good or bad. anything can be a trigger when it comes to a habit – especially when trying to break a habit. “Maybe you want to stop smoking, but you used to have a cigarette every day with a glass of wine when you get home from work. Well, simply getting home from work would serve as a trigger to that behavior. It’s difficult to break those triggers,” said Morgan.

Elizabeth Crystal, the founder of Mindfulness Holistic Center in North Easton MA, also says that triggers are important to consider. “I believe there are hundreds of triggers. Multiple things can remind you and trigger emotions, smells, colors, and patterns, can set off a trigger.”

Judson Brewer, a mindful addiction doctor, sees triggers differently. “It depends on the person and the habit.”

Annie Mueller, a habit expert, disagrees and says that it doesn’t matter. “I think the potential number of triggers are unlimited, but usually there are 1-2 main triggers for each habit. For example, eating lunch is a habit. It can be triggered by hunger, by noticing the time of day, by getting out the class that ends before lunch period, by other people around you going to lunch, etc. But the main trigger that probably gets a person going on their “have lunch” habit is time of day and hunger (appetite). The more reliable a trigger is, the stronger a habit will be.”

Dr. Morgan says that curiosity is what drives us to change our habits. “Without being conscious of what we do, a desire to change, and curious about how to make that change, then it’s impossible to break a bad habit and develop a new one.”

Elizabeth Crystal says the same, curiosity changes how we look at things, especially habits. “Curiosity can help break habits because you’re breaking it with a new habit. Neural Pathways in your brain are created.”

Mueller says that curiosity is also a method to combat fear and provides a powerful motivation for us to explore new behaviors. “Change can be uncomfortable, because it requires learning new skills and adjusting to new environments or situations; generally, we humans resist being uncomfortable,” she said.

She also says that curiosity helps us overcome the resistance. “If you are curious enough about something, you will move past that fear of change to find out what you want to know. The more you follow your curiosity, the more comfortable you become with change and with experiencing new things, which can make it easier and easier for you to improve your habits and change your behaviors,” she added.

Meditation is a big part of habits and triggers, as it makes the human body, mind, and soul balance and calm down from the stresses of the world around us.

Elizabeth Crystal, who is also a holistic healer, says that meditation is a perfect way to silence the mind. “Absolutely. Meditation helps you focus and quiet the mind, developing mindfulness and focusing skills.”

But Brewer is skeptical of silencing the entire brain. “It (meditation) helps us change our relationship to our thoughts – not get caught up in them.”

Morgan and Mueller concur that though it may seem like a bad thing, waiting to start a habit is a really good thing.

Morgan says that waiting until you’re fully committed to start a habit is best when developing new habits. “If you’re not committed, then you won’t follow through long term. You have to want something BADLY in order for the changes to stick.”

Mueller agrees and says that motivation is the key. “First, it helps to be sure of your motivation.For example, your best friend starts jogging every day, and you decide you should pick up the same habit. It’s a good habit, maybe, but if you are only doing it because someone else is, you will quickly lose motivation and probably not ever establish the habit. Then you might feel like a failure and resist trying new habits in the future.”

Mueller says that while it can be great to work on establishing a new habit with someone else, your motivation needs to be internal. “It’s very important to figure out what your real motivation is before you start a habit,” she emphasized.

Mueller also says that you have to be realistic about if you’re actually capable to fulfilling the task of creating the habit. “You need to assess how realistic the habit is in your life. Maybe you want to start writing every day. But you have also just started a new job and are taking a class. It is probably better to wait until you have been at your new job, and know what your schedule will be like. Then you can decide if you have time to write every day, or if you need to wait until you finish the class you are taking. Realistically assessing your resources, such as time, energy, and attention, is key to being successful when you establish new habits.”

Elizabeth Crystal says that creating habits is hard, but breaking habits is even worse. “It’s all about replacement — replace bad or old habits with good and new ones.”

Morgan agrees. “A lot of it has to do with the wiring in our brains. The more we repeat a thought or behavior, the stronger that wiring gets in our brains. It’s kind of like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”

But Mueller says that if your resources are already maxed out, adding a new habit will not go well. “If you decide you want to establish a new habit, but you don’t do anything to set up the supplies and environment to support that habit, it will be very difficult to stick to it.”

But Mueller says that if your resources are already maxed out, adding a new habit will not go well. “If you decide you want to establish a new habit, but you don’t do anything to set up the supplies and environment to support that habit, it will be very difficult to stick to it.”



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