How Exactly Do We Break Bad Habits?
We Must Understand How the Brain Learns to Forms Habits, in Order to Break Them.
I learned the explanation of “neurons that fire together, wire together” from Mark Robert Waldman, the world’s leading expert on communication and the brain. He taught me this information over a few Skype sessions and I never thought I would understand what he was saying, let alone teaching it to others. After thinking about his explanation, it not only made sense, but I know I could explain this to my two young children. Never underestimate your own power! I also learned that “neurons out of sync, fail to link.”
Here is the lesson:
We have around 100 billion brain nerve cells called neurons that connect the brain to the body. “If you took 100 billion sheets of paper and stacked them on top of each other, it would be 5,000 miles high. That’s the distance from Los Angeles to London!” (Dr. Joe Dispenza, TED TALK, Feb 8, 2013). This puts the vastness of your brain into perspective.
Each neuron has one axon with many tails (terminals). When you are learning, the axon terminals send electrochemical messages to other neurons across tiny spaces called synapses.
Learning creates a synaptic connection when you are thinking, feeling, or actually doing something new. New neural pathways are formed. This is how you create a new habit.
Breaking a habit is just the opposite; by avoiding certain thoughts, feelings or actions, your impulses or neural connections become weaker and weaker. The result is that knowledge and skills are constructed in our brain. As we learn, our dendrites actually grow as they make new synaptic connections. Learning happens when we forge new connections.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together” and “neurons that are out of synch, fail to link.”
It is easy to see now that “we are what we think about” or “we create our reality” as we do reinforce our neural pathways with attention to the habits we don’t want, even when we are thinking ” I don’t want that piece of pie” or ” I don’t want this project to fail” and so on.
5 Ideas for Breaking Habits that No Longer Serve You
- Replace the habit with a good habit and begin to strengthen the new neural pathway. If you want to give up coffee in the morning, replace it with hot lemon water in the morning. With time, the neural pathway of the old habit of drinking coffee will prune away with the new habit of drinking hot lemon tea.
- Try brain-training. Over time and repetition, you can change old habits, and beliefs with affirmations. I use John Assaraf’s programs at www.myneurogym.com
- Create a daily habits tracking sheet to keep track of your daily habits. I have included a form below if you would like to access the tracker that I use.
- Replace negative thinking with positive thinking. In order to break negative thought patterns, or ruminating, use something in your head to break this destructive pattern. I use a phrase that instantly puts me in a more positive mindset “peace, tranquility, success, happiness and love” to switch my negative mindset into a more positive one.
- Find an accountability partner who you can count on to keep you on track with your goals. Entrepreneur, investor, author and public speaker Gary Vaynerchuk did this when he wanted to lose weight. His trainer followed him around every minute of the day to keep him on track. You should be able to change your habits without having to go this extreme, but if you are still struggling, there are many ways to reach out to others and ask for help.
If you have ever wondered the science behind forming better habits, you have come to the right place. In Level Up; A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement, we take a close look at how we learn, form new habits and break old destructive ones.