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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Break a Bad Habit and Create a Healthy One!

Admit it, we are creatures of habit. The ones that give us pleasure like eating rich fatty foods, smoking and drinking alcohol, release the chemical dopamine in the brain. This floods the body with good feelings. Repeated behavior deepens the neurological grooves in our brain, making habits extremely difficult to break. Our brains actually prefer habitual behavior because it is comfortable and familiar.

Below are some tips on how to rewire your brain to kick bad habits:

1. First, you must figure out what your triggers are. There’s a reason why you drink too much or eat too much. It could be to ease stress or relieve loneliness. Habits are formed when a behavior is linked to an emotion. A good way to figure out what your triggers are is to keep a daily journal that tracks what emotion or event triggers a habit.

2. Now that you have figured out what your triggers are, find a replacement habit. We never actually break our habits, we simply replace them with other habits. So, if you have a bad habit, find a new, healthy one to replace it. Instead of sitting in front of the television with a box of cookies, take a walk after dinner. Work a puzzle, read a book, listen to your favorite music, knit, crochet; you get the idea! Repeating a healthy behavior is the best way to rewire your brain.
3. Don’t get discouraged. You need to recognize that the immediate reward you get from a bad habit is stronger than the delayed gratification that comes from changing it. To successfully kick a habit your must retrain your mind to think, not of instant gratification, but of future benefits. This takes time. Keep trying, and don’t think of a backslide as failure. Instead, call it a “slip.” If people think they’re failing, they give up. After three weeks, the new habit should become second nature. I like to keep little sticky notes of positive affirmations or motivational phrases around my house to keep me going.

4. Exercise. Yes, exercise is good for more than calorie burning. Regular exercise raises the level of a key protein that encourages the growth of new neurons in the brain. New neurons are essential to rewiring the brain for healthy habits. To create those new neurons, you don’t have to run a marathon. Taking a walk 4 times a week for 30-40 minutes will do the trick, or riding a bike, skating, jogging or working out on an elliptical. Any extra movement you can incorporate into your daily schedule will help you tremendously.

Go for it! You are worth it!


  1. I needed this one today, Cara. Thanks for the post. I have been on a diet for two months and lost 18 lbs. Without a lot of detail I have been having major problems with my 13 year old, then my mom came to visit which wasn't helpful even though I love her. I put back on 2 lbs and was ready to cry. I am eating out of stress. Thanks for reaffirming it's a slip not a lifestyle change!

    1. Congratulations on a great accomplishment, Allyson! You should be very proud of all your hard work so far! Yes, life happens and stress may make you feel like a failure, but don't give up! There will be ups and downs in your health journey, but as long as you don't give up, you will reach your goals!

  2. Distance running has helped me get rid of a few "bad" habits. Figuring out that your what your body needs for fuel and rest to accomplish certain tasks can lead to a healthier lifestyle. It worked for me, but then you battle through physical injuries and pain, a whole different topic!


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