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How to break bad habits and form better ones

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Whether we were made from clay by the hand of God or whether we evolved from single-celled organisms who somehow made themselves from clay long after a Big Bang, it does not change the reality of how our body, brain and mind currently interact.

One thing seems certain; 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 believe this is the case.

That’s 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 is now considered to be a scientific fact – with plenty of proof to back it up.

If you can believe that the mind is separate from the brain, you can break bad habits 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 after every 90-minute work session.)
  3. Use your “won’t power” the next time you have the urge to act out the 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 and focus on your part.
  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 fades 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 than the one usually taken. 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 that are no longer used.

You are your mind. You have the power to decide what is important and what is not; what should be done and what should be delayed or abandoned; which behaviours should be changed and which ones should be retained. If you believe all that, you are in control of your life.

If you still need help, you will have to refer to the creator of the clay.

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