Have you ever wondered how a habit is formed? Do you find it hard to change your customs? You are not alone. Let’s look at the right way to change your habits in a lasting way.
Our mind works with thoughts, feelings and actions: attitudes and choices. We think, feel and do something. By repeating the same actions day after day, month after month, year after year, we create a habit. With the repetition of habits, be it food, clothing or the way you think and relate to yourself and others, character is built. So, repeated actions form our character. The sequence is:
- thoughts lead to feelings
- feelings lead to actions
- actions produce habits
- habits generate character
Remember when you took your first driving lessons? For a while, even after you had your driver’s license in hand, your mind needed to think about what pedal you use to accelerate and which one is the break, when to signal that you take a turn and that you need to put into park position when you stop. But over time, with habit, all of that was starting to happen in autopilot without you needing to think about that. A habit, a conditioning, emerged.
To create a new habit, effort, perseverance and self-control are necessary. Look at this text:
The power of self-restraint strengthens by exercise. That which at first seems difficult, by constant repetition grows easy, until right thoughts and actions become habitual.E.G.White, Mind, Character and Personality Vol, 1, p. 285.
Brain cells, neurons, form an electrochemical circuit in the brain, a network with billions of neurons that communicate with each other. When you habitually think the same way about some subject, that thought becomes an ingrained belief in your psyche. Your habitual way of thinking then becomes a strong influence in your life, affecting your relationships, your work, and your social life. We become what we think about most. Brain circuits are working in such a way that it repeats functions that have been conditioned over time; and this is called habit.
People who are used to looking at the negative side of things, who tend to focus their minds on tragic matters, who always think pessimistically, favor the brain to function in unhealthy conditioning. Positive psychology studies show that cultivating thoughts of gratitude and hope helps with physical health as well. But when a person harbors negative thoughts and ideas, their immune system is affected in a way that can make infections easier to develop.
For example, researchers at the University of Arizona, studying stress, found that people who lost hope due to loss in life had not only more frequent infections, but also infections that took longer to resolve. This is because sadness seems to weaken immunity, making defenses such as T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes less effective in fighting viruses and bacteria, that is: the mental attitude affects the body, which can generate psychosomatic diseases and clinical situations, such as a weakened immune system.
So individuals who cultivate bad habits of thinking may experience more physical ailments throughout life. And the opposite is also true: good physical habits, a positive, optimistic, hopeful mental attitude and trust in God, make it easier for our bodies to respond to illness in a better and more protective way. The good news is that there is a mechanism in our brain called neurogenesis, which has to do with brain flexibility, neuroplasticity; a type of biological resilience. In other words, a possibility of change.
In other words: brain cells that have become accustomed to functioning in a certain neural pathway, which produces addiction, can return to normal functioning in the adult state, making it possible to create a new habit. Some studies suggest that a new habit can be built in three weeks, or 21 days. Other studies have shown that it takes 40 days to create a different habit. The important thing is that this is possible.
But it is true that in many cases change is not coming easy. Some negative habits may need something more than physical and psychological resources to disappear, or come under control. There are habits that are so ingrained in the person, that have been in the individual’s life for so many years and that produce unhealthy pleasure, with a strong feeling of satisfaction, that willpower alone is not enough to break them. Hence the need to believe in a higher power, which I call God the Creator, to give us the strength to overcome that bad habit.
Do you want to change a bad habit in your life? Take the first step. Place a target. Something like: Just for today I’m not going to practice this bad habit. In other words, the fight is today! What tomorrow will be like, leave it for tomorrow. You may have to struggle with splitting the day, in the sense of deciding to avoid the bad habit at least in the morning. Make the decision by saying to yourself: this morning I will not practice…. . Mention the addiction you don’t want to practice that day. If you feel the force of a bad habit taking hold of you, turn to spiritual resources, as members of Alcoholics Anonymous do:
- Admitting your powerlessness in the face of you bad habit.
- Believing that a power greater than yourself, the God of the Universe can help you.
- Deciding to turn the will of your life over to the care of this Creator God.
So start believing. Believe that it is possible to change a bad habit, because it will be worth reaping the results of your right choices.
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Dr. Cesar Vasconcellos de Souza is working as a psychiatrist and international speaker. He is author of 3 books, columnist of the health magazine “Vida e Saúde” for 25 years, and has a regular program on the “Novo Tempo” TV channel.