Train Your Brain to Ditch Bad Habits and Form New, Better Ones

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Have you ever found yourself driving straight to work on the weekend, when you really meant to go to the store? Your mind learns to do certain things, like drive the same path from home to work, on autopilot to conserve energy. That’s great, unless you’re trying to break a habit that’s not serving you well! It is possible, however, to train your brain to ditch bad habits and form new, better ones.

This ability for your brain to change is called neuroplasticity. The more you act a certain way or perform a certain activity, the stronger the pathway in your brain becomes. Whether you’ve suffered a stroke and are learning how to perform functions again, or you want to stop smoking or get up earlier each day, you have the power to train your brain.

An article in Pathways to Wellness offers these essential steps for rewiring your brain and training it to create new habits:

  1. “Observe what the old habit or pathway is doing in your life.
    Look at your feelings, thoughts, and how your body is responding to the habit, and see what results you’re creating in your life. Be the witness, and be aware.

  2. Shift your focus.
    This is very important. To create a new neural pathway, you must take the focus off the old habit, and then that old habit will eventually fall away. Don’t pay attention to the doughnuts and cakes. Focus your awareness on wholesome, healthy, delicious foods.

  3. Use your imagination.
    You can build new neural pathways not only with new behaviors, but through the imagination. Imagine the new behaviors over and over and over. Keep repeating them in your mind so you build new pathways. Focus your mind and retrain your brain.

  4. Interrupt your thoughts and patterns when they arise.
    Say “no” or “cancel” when an old thought or impulse comes in, and say, “I don’t have to do that anymore.” Then turn toward the new neural pathway you’re building and keep on going in the right direction.

  5. Use aversion therapy.
    This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s an optional path. I like to call it the “maggots on the chocolate cake” technique. I used to love candies and sweets, and when I stopped eating them, I still had to pass by the candy store in town. I used aversion to train my brain to keep walking: “That’s junk,” I said to myself. “It’s made in factories, is sickeningly sweet, and makes me feel bad. The company makes it so sweet just to addict buyers. I don’t want any of that.” So I talk myself out of it. I’ve used it with many of my clients (only those who say they want it) to help them quit smoking, eating junk food, using cocaine and many other behaviors.

  6. Create a specific plan and choose what to do instead.
    When you get specific, it’s easier to build new neural pathways. You “make it official.” Decide that you want to exercise instead of overeating, or that you want to eat fruit instead of candy. Just keep focused on the new choice. You may want to create affirmations and anchors to reinforce your choices. This can be “I’m free,” or “I’m in control.” Reinforce this with energy therapies like Emotional Freedom Technique or other methods.

  7. Transform the obstacles.
    Look at what’s in the way. Look at secondary gain— what you’ve been getting out of the old habits or pathways. Look at the stress in your life, and think about how you can handle it differently. Get your mind in the place of possibility. Handle the emotions and thoughts, and get on a new superhighway in your mind.

  8. Connect with your higher source for inspiration and support.
    Listen to our guidance. Know you have the Force within you, and therefore you have great power. Meditation creates new pathways and brain changes. Actual studies have been done on the brains of monks to show meditation’s effect on neural circuits of the brain.

  9. Transform and make the shift.
    Know that transformation is always possible and that you can create new brain pathways whenever you’re ready to make the shift. When you keep your mind in the “I can do it!” space, you get a clear sense that you’re done with the old and on a new beam now.”

If you like this, you may also enjoy the podcast, It’s a Brain Changer!

Learn more by reading the full article, Train Your Brain, in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #44.