How to break bad habits and form better ones.

I happen to believe that you are not your brain. If you were, you would not be able to override it, modify it or control it; because you would be it. Some neuroscientists seem to believe this could be case. Others claim the mind and the brain are one. Others don’t know. And logically I can’t really know either. But I do believe the mind or soul is separate from the brain.

It would certainly be great news; because it means we (our mind) can use our brain (the body’s computer) to change our thinking, modify our brain structure, and in many circumstances, even heal our bodies.

For example, it means we can change bad habits that our brain has automatically developed, based on input it has received from the environment, past behaviours, and a preprogrammed initiative to survive.

The mind’s ability to change the brain is referred to as self-directed neuroplasticity, and it is now considered to be a scientific fact – with plenty of proof to back it up.

In any case, visualize your mind as being separate from the brain. You are your mind, not your brain. Then you can break bad habits by using the following five-step plan.

  1. Identify the brain messages that got you into the habit in the first place and evaluate them with your mind. (For example, perhaps at one time it seemed essential to check email about every five minutes.)
  2. Direct your attention to the new action you prefer – the one that meets your personal values and that would be healthier and more productive for you. (For example, to check email first thing in the morning and again after every 90-minute work session.)
  3. Use your “won’t power” the next time you have the urge to act out the old habitual behaviour you have determined is more reasonable and more proactive. (Say no to yourself when you have that mental itch to check your email before it’s time to do so.)
  4. Use your “willpower” to act out the replacing behaviour – even though the urge is still there to do otherwise. This requires mindfulness, effort, energy and focus on your part. (That’s why it is essential to build a reserve of energy and to manage it well as indicated in previous blog articles.)
  5. Focus on the new behaviour. The more you focus and follow through with the new behaviour, the sooner this new behaviour becomes the new habit, and the old habit dies from disuse.

The reason this works is that by acting out a new behaviour again and again, you are rewiring your current neurons to form a new circuit.

It’s akin to creating a new and shorter path through a field. It will take initiative, self-discipline and effort on your part to form this new path through the long grass. But the more times you do so, the more entrenched the path becomes and the easier it is to follow. Meanwhile the original path will fade away from disuse. This is similar to the fate of neural pathways in your brain that are no longer used.

You are your mind. You have the power to use the prefrontal cortex part of your brain, that part that houses the executive skills, including self-control, to decide what is important and what is not, what should be done and what should be delayed or abandoned, and which behaviours should be changed and which ones should be retained.

If you believe all that, and have built up a reserve of energy and managed it well, as was discussed in the previous six articles, you will be in control of your of your brain – and your life.