Psychology

  • Issue 116 / March - April 2017



    How to Overcome Bad Habits

    Amin Uighur

    Human feelings, thoughts, and behavior are a result of the complex and dynamic
    connections between our brain, ego, and soul. These connections are not just
    the source of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, but also the control mechanism
    over them. They enable us to bring multi-dimensional and multi-layered perspectives
    in efforts to explain human behavior.

     

    Many scientists disregard the functions of the ego and the soul,
    considering the brain to be the only point of reference to explain our feelings
    and actions. The brain itself is a complex web of innumerable connections among
    its cortexes. For instance, while the prefrontal cortex is the trajectory of
    functions that relate to behavior and personality, Wernicke’s area, in the
    dominant temporal lobe, is concerned with the comprehension of language. The infralimbic
    cortex has been found to be critical in regulating habitual behavior, and it
    may be argued that this cortex might be the place we can observe the possible
    connections between our soul and why we behave in certain ways.

     

    An overwhelming majority of our thoughts and behaviors manifest without
    us being aware them; we are only conscious of a small percentage of our
    actions. The minimum energy principle in the universe is evident in this
    process: we act as if on auto-pilot as we conduct habituated behaviors, and
    this is when our brain consumes a minimum amount of energy, as opposed to the much
    higher consumption needed during consciously-conducted actions. These require
    strenuous brain activity.

     

    The human brain registers often-repeated behaviors and assigns each one
    a code defining its importance. This code becomes a reflex and in time a habit,
    done automatically. Even though we usually do day-to-day habits as if
    completely subconsciously, the habitual mechanisms in our brain actually have a
    set of algorithms that point to a certain level of consciousness. The
    infralimbic cortex, for instance, is active even we are on auto-pilot. The more
    frequent the action, the more settled it remains in our brain and soul. When
    the frequency increases, the communicator lobe, located in the center of the
    brain between sensorimotor cortex and striatum, becomes stronger.

     

    Pleasure factor

    Research on developing new habits has shown that the prefrontal cortex
    is in communication with the striatum, and the striatum with the midbrain. An
    increase in dopamine secretion also facilitates habit development. Serving as a
    chemical messenger, dopamine is a pleasure-related molecule. If dopamine is
    secreted as a result of an action, then the person wishes to do it again. This
    is usually how habits are formed.

     

    “This is how I am; that’s how I
    got used to it; I can’t help it.­”

     

    We tend to resist new things and changes. Overcoming our deeply settled
    habits is a multidimensional process, relying heavily on intentions and willful
    inclination.

    One method that is useful for getting rid of our bad habits is to
    replace them with different behaviors. Directing ourselves to a new behavior
    instead of the old ones eventually makes the latter lose influence over time.
    Watching TV or smoking are not necessities, but a habit. It is always possible
    to replace a bad behavior with a good one, but again, the process is not easy;
    it requires willpower and patience. Moving to a new place and adopting new
    friends can usually be helpful when one has difficulty resisting inner urges. A
    strong willpower supported by patience will wither the communicator lobe
    between the sensorimotor cortex and striatum, which will squeeze the habit from
    the brain.

     

    Saying, “I just cannot” is the easy path. It’s giving the carnal soul
    control over your whole existence. Perhaps it suggests the bad behavior has
    become something the person even enjoys.  

     

    Second nature

    Clinical research focuses on curing habits through medicine applied in
    the cortex. However, human life has too many colors and manifest actions depending
    on the time and context, which makes medication insufficient for breaking bad
    habits. This is where nourishment of our soul comes in. Adopting role models,
    especially those who pioneered spiritual and ethical traditions and their
    teachings, are useful in regulating our habits. One of these teachings is to
    practice and develop a second nature. In mystical traditions, it is usually
    recommended to practice a certain behavior, for instance waking up early at
    night for prayer, at least for forty days before being able to permanently
    adopt it. While gaining new habits it is important to be aware of ourselves and
    not to go to extremes, which may cause an imbalance in our lives.

     

    Many spiritual practices have also been confirmed by medical science to
    be supportive of a healthy life. Bodily cleanliness through washing is an
    essential part of prayer in almost all religious traditions around the world.
    Water does not only clean our bodies, but its cooling effect soothes us and
    helps rid us of our anger.

     

    Another spiritual teaching is to engage in good work and spend time
    with those who do good work. Once a person “repents” and tries to stay away
    from his or her bad habits, it is important to fill up the vacuum with
    righteous actions; otherwise, there is always a risk of turning back to those
    habits.

    Becoming too habituated with one action, be it a righteous work or even
    a prayer, is another slippery ground for every individual. Habituation may
    cause us to lose our enthusiasm and feel nothing for that action. When one
    feels too familiar with good habits and takes no pleasure from them, one then
    needs to diversify their behavior to bring full awareness to their practices.
    Mystical traditions call this awareness under the watchful eye of the divine,
    and they encourage always contemplating each and every step one takes along the
    way.


    Medical studies have been incredible at curing certain bad habits.
    However, many of our addictions, which harm both individuals and general
    society, are still present; medication hasn’t worked. For enduring results, it
    is important to support medical solutions with prescriptions from religious
    traditions, which idealize well-being both physically and spiritually. Many
    ethical values that are highly regarded in such traditions present very useful
    guidelines for a healthy life in which bad habits can be efficiently contained,
    if not completely eradicated.

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