Bad choices are most often made because of impulse, desire, or simply because the choice is the easier option. Over time, repeated choices lead to habits — and with these habits come multiple subconscious and social cues that enable our desire to make said choices. When trying to quit or break a habit, these subconscious triggers make it difficult for you to control whether you will or will not make the choice.
Addiction has taught you first hand just how much effort goes into unraveling a habit and its triggers to develop healthier ones. Since the recent pandemic, you might find yourself in a situation where you are developing a new cycle of habits — though these are not the desired habits for a lasting recovery. You understand the difference between what you should and should not do. Maybe you can benefit from taking a closer look at the nature of habits, so you can learn how to exercise corrective behavior before a habit becomes too difficult to break.
Time and Schedule
Certainly by now you have read about the power of a good schedule. And this is true — establishing a schedule for when you will complete a task will form a habit over time. Time has a way of triggering you to do things both consciously and unconsciously. For example, if you wake up and your first instincts are to brush your teeth and shower, this is because you have spent years training your body to respond this way. Time can cause you to do things that might not be so obvious as well. For example, you may head for a snack or brew a cup of coffee at the same time every day.
Pay attention to when you feel the impulse to perform an act. You might be surprised that it happens around the same time each day. Next, decide if these acts have a negative or positive impact on your recovery. Once you discover how you are using your time, you can begin to create a schedule to replace unhealthy habits with more positive activities.
Your environment can go a long way in influencing whether you feel the urge to react positively or negatively when an impulse emerges. What can be even more damaging is when your environment has more control over you than you think — causing you to participate in mindless acts. For example, leaving junk food out on the counter may draw you to it, and before you know it you have eaten the whole bag. Studies have shown that when you continue to repeat a behavior, you start to assign habits to the area.
To combat this, you want to create new cues in a given spot — maybe doing a morning stretch in the living room to prepare for your day, or sitting at the kitchen table and writing in a journal for 20 minutes before eating breakfast. Over time, these acts will help create new cues for your brain to respond. You will look at these places around your home and they will incite a more positive behavior and response.
Many habits are a response to something else happening. While it is difficult to control preceding events and the habits you develop from them, you can teach yourself how to pair the event with another habit. For example, when you sit down to dinner, take a minute to reflect on your day, and express gratitude. When you get home from work, immediately change into workout clothes.
These paired acts will help you develop new habits at a faster pace. This practice is called habit stacking and it helps your brain connect the neurons that strengthen your response to a given act. So, the next time you spend a minute expressing gratitude or do ten push-ups, the entire process will seem more natural to you.
By now you probably understand the effect that emotions can have on your habits. A perfect example is eating cake to cope with a bad day. Given the current situation, your emotions of sadness, anger, and isolation are probably occurring more frequently. Emotions are often hard to control as we try to implement good habits to help ourselves cope. Understanding why and when you have these feelings can help signal to your brain that this is the time to focus on self-care and transition your frame of mind.
Much like examining time, you want to recognize what and when these thoughts occur. Is it in the morning when you wake up and have the whole day ahead of you? Or at night when you should be winding down to fall asleep? Once you begin to see the patterns, you can start practicing ways to alleviate the tension that accompanies these thoughts. Breathing exercises are a fast and easy way to reduce tension, and you can do them from anywhere. For more involved sessions, try meditation, music, and other activities that bring relief, so you can distract your mind from deferring to the bad habit.
The people you talk to can also trigger a response to participate in something negative. Just because most social events are happening online today doesn’t mean that you cannot be triggered. For example, if you’re talking to a family member and they happen to be sipping on a glass of wine or smoking weed while chatting, it’s easy to think that maybe you can have a drink or smoke, too. Even if you have built up resiliency in your recovery to accept that others will drink and smoke around you, it can be harder to resist given the current circumstances.
It’s important to remember that a drink likely won’t be only a drink, and that getting high might lead back to other drugs. Simply ask this friend or family member to not drink or smoke when they are chatting with you, or find a time to talk when they aren’t as likely to be doing so. If for some reason they refuse, then focus on connecting with friends who you know won’t be drinking or smoking.
Telling yourself that you are going to do something is not the same as doing something. Many like the idea of creating new habits but rarely ever do because they are not specific about when that action should take place. For example, perhaps you want to associate doing ten push-ups with your morning coffee, but you are lax on when you do them — sometimes before, sometimes after, sometimes during, and sometimes never.
The idea is to create a trigger that will cause your brain to respond. When you hit the brew button, you drop and do ten push-ups. The specificity of hitting that button to cause the push-up reaction will solidify the cue and hold you to doing the act.
Our habits, whether big or small, support the pillars that support our recovery by filling the cracks. It’s normal that at different points in life, habits will change for better or worse. It’s important to always remember that no matter what, the effort should always be in favor of your recovery. Sometimes, you will need help and this is okay, too. This is a hard time for many to get motivated. If you are beginning to feel that there is no hope, then it’s time to seek help immediately.
The path to recovery is different for each person based on their habits and experiences. True Recovery offers 24/7 care that will help you through these times by finding the right solutions for you. To learn more, call us today at (866)-399-6528.