A lot of our daily actions are automatic. We wake up and start our routine as if our brain is on autopilot, and in a very real way it is, as doing what is already learned allows for the brain to conserve energy. Unfortunately, this sense of automation works for both our bad and good habits and, for better or for worse, our habits shape us. People avoid changing their bad habits for many reasons, possibly they are able to justify them through cognitive dissonance, but most often, people don’t change for the simple reason that it just seems too hard. Breaking a bad habit ultimately is about rewiring your brain, which certainly, upon hearing such a statement, may sound like something outside of human control. However, the reality is very much the opposite; we have governance over our minds and bodies and it is well within our power to be fully equipped with the strategies to mold our minds.
Charles Joseph Popov, a counselor with a basis in psychology, resilience therapy, and nutrition has his own singular approaches when it comes to inspiring clients to break bad habits. He shares some of his thoughts on getting rid of bad habits.
Neural pathways are created in the brain based on our habits and behaviors. Our brain cells communicate with each other through these pathways via a process called “neuronal firing.” The frequency at which these cells connect, or communicate, strengthens these pathways and, sure enough, with enough repetition, these behaviors become automatic. Reading, driving, and riding a bike are examples of complicated behaviors that we do instinctively because neural pathways have formed.
Even so, notes Charles Popov, just because individuals have formed neural pathways does not mean that they are stuck with those conventions forever. Counselors and psychiatrists around the world work with individuals to overcome complacency in their habits in order to help them build a more balanced lifestyle. Popov often reveals to his clients his own background, more precisely, the obstacles he has personally overcome, which establishes camaraderie, allows the client to become more comfortable sharing their stories and provides a counter-example of success.
Charles Popov’s signature style of having clients meet their objectives, that is, how he guides them to find their resilience through their personal experience, is just one piece of a larger schema in which he supports people looking to break bad habits. He works to ensure his patients understand that the brain is in fact malleable, as in order to elicit positive behavior change, it is important to understand the science behind it.
Furthermore, counselors often recommend that their clients engage in the act of visualization. For example, if a patient was struggling with losing weight, they would be tasked with visualizing what their optimal health looks and feels like. Visualization is almost as powerful as reality, given that your brain cannot tell the difference between something real or imagined. Research shows that any time you are thinking, you are engaging and thus conditioning your neural pathways. Another popular method for reshaping your thinking is meditation — the process of relaxing the body and quieting the mind. In order to tap into the benefits of neural plasticity, people are encouraged to disengage their stress response and stimulate their relaxation response, which meditation can certainly help facilitate. When someone is stressed, their brain rigidly defers to the strongest neural pathways out of survival, so promoting change is made all the more difficult.
Charles Joseph Popov on Breaking the Cycle
The main method for changing bad habits though is of course practice, which allows for neural pathways to be strengthened into habits through the repetition of thinking, feeling, and acting. It is estimated that it takes three to six months for a new behavior to become a habit, though this estimate varies by person. With time, repetition will pay off once the behaviour inevitably becomes natural.
If you are looking to change your habitual routine, Charles Popov suggests testing out some of the above techniques as they are all designed to train your brain to create new neural pathways. Most importantly, keep motivated as it is always possible, as many people have already proven, to reshape your life by reshaping your brain.