A bus station is situated right in front of the office where I work, which probably explains why I think a lot about buses and trains. Several times a day, I see them through the window, shipping people toward or away from New York. It is not difficult to make an analogy between these bus habits and the paths of our lives.
Most of us have an idea of the way we want to follow and the way we are trying to avoid. If you are trying to lose weight, there is a way to reach your goal and a way to succeed. In general, we choose our addiction or the freedom from what we’re addicted to. When we work through extreme anxiety, the choice is between fleeing fears and confronting them. Motivation and mindfulness training encourages awareness and intent, which can work as a leverage to surpass the stupid stumbles in our lives where we willfully and consciously engage in self-destructive behaviors and habits.
Often, we may feel that our personal evolution is not in the best of shape, and we then feel the need to change everything and fall back into our bad habits or destructive behaviors sometimes consciously and sometimes without knowing the reason why we do it. Today, I’m happy to share my experience with you through this article. Let’s start by taking off the mask we wear sometimes.
Life is full of obstacles
Life is more like a succession of turns than a long straight line. You will surely agree with me if I tell you that life is not based on established rules. Life is learning, and that means failing, making mistakes, getting up again, moving forward, giving up, forgetting and engaging in bad habits. Thus, there is nothing wrong with not finishing school, ending relationships or not respecting certain laws imposed by society that want you, for example, at a certain age to have children, a job and a house, etc. No one should judge you for what you are doing or what you have decided to stop doing. Remember that you are the only master of your life.
You will be happy when you allow yourself to make mistakes.
We don’t rationally weigh the risks of the choices vs. costs
We as human beings, often seek immediate pleasure over waiting a certain period of time to get what we want. When we want something we want to have it at the exact time that we were thinking about having it. For example, when we smoke we don’t think about having brain cancer or having dangerous diseases that would probably be fatal, instead we think about the immediate relaxation and pleasure we will feel as soon as we smoke a cigarette. This is exactly why many people have a hard time quitting addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, certain foods, etc.
We all go through phases
Each one of us has phases that have been and always will be prominent in our existence. The phases or circumstances we go through are the experiences that define us, who we really are, what are our likes and dislikes, the things we look up to the most and our daily aspirations. These phases affect our judgment. Some people’s personalities develop too fast and some too slow and it makes us mold into the shapes of emotions whether we like it or not.
We are relieved when we get important tasks done and if they are easy, we do them even more often. Destruction always leads to a very difficult path, but it also creates an experience. If we end up engaging in “conscious pain” then we can somehow understand the reality of things. If we don’t, then we just move on to the next thing the same way without feeling it.
No matter how strong we are and how perfect we think our lives are there is no chance are we crossing this life road without falling into a bunch of bad habits such as heavy drinking, addiction, eating too much or even simple non-harmful habits like staying up late all night long to play video games. We know that deep inside we shouldn’t be doing these things but we end up doing them each time because we are sub-consciously addicted.
Understand the formation of a bad habit
Habits are choices and actions that we reproduce unconsciously without thinking about them. The human brain is programmed to save energy and shaping habits gives it the opportunity to work less. Nearly 40% of your daily actions come from your habits. This is a good thing because it allows you to devote your energy to more interesting tasks.
In The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg defines a habit as a pattern of rooted behavior that follows three stages. A trigger: Any stimulus perceived by your brain can activate a routine (e.g. the battery level of your laptop is low).
The routine: is the action triggered in response to the trigger to receive the reward (eg you will plug the power plug to charge your computer).
The reward: reinforces the link between the trigger and the routine. If it finds satisfaction, your brain will keep it and assimilate it for the future (e.g. you can continue to use your laptop).
When a habit becomes deeply embedded in our behavior, a fourth step is added to this model: envy.
The ‘guilt’ reward system
When you do something good, you risk rewarding yourself with something bad for being good. This can lead to misconduct such as fast food after a workout, visit sites that you do not have to work or buy trivia. Why do you often feel bad and guilty after giving in to your immediate desires? And why do you still do it, despite the fact that you are aware of it? Because the reward system of your brain is not always your friend – and sometimes it leads you in the wrong direction.
Dopamine, the promise of relentless happiness
Just imagine or feel something you want to activate the reward system of your brain. At that point, your brain sends you dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls your attention, motivation, and actions.
Translation of the brain: “I want this NOW otherwise you will regret it! ”
This can be activated by something that you have associated with a promise of happiness: a 70% discount in a mall, the smell of a burger, a beautiful person who smiles at you. When the dopamine is released, the object that fired on this trigger lever immediately becomes very desirable – even if it acts against your long-term interests.
That’s why you engage in activities that seem irresistible at first glance, but that is provocative and unsatisfactory.
When we add this instant gratification of modern technology to our primitive motivation system, we end up with dopamine activators that make us addicted: the Smartphone and the computer. Now we have Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, and messages. The developers of these applications know perfectly how to exploit your psychological vulnerabilities to rob you a maximum of time. Refresh, click on other links and check your new posts. It’s as if these devices are directly connected to your brain to bring you a promise of constant reward.
In 2005, a 28-year-old South Korean, Lee-Seung Seop, died of a cardiovascular accident after playing a video game for 50 hours in a row. He refused to eat, to sleep, he only wanted to continue. Self-discipline means distinguishing between true rewards that give meaning to your life and false rewards that keep you distracted and at the mercy of vice.
The threat of stress
Stress is a common source of misfortune. This can happen because of personal or professional concerns, but also by external events, such as bad news. Stress is one of the biggest threats to your will because it pushes you to do something to get better.
You know you want it.
Except that your brain will prefer the simplest method: activities generating dopamine. Desire usually follows a feeling of lack, of inner emptiness that needs to be filled. Do you feel alone? Facebook or Tinder. Are you bored? YouTube, Netflix, video games. All these little things leave you with a feeling of guilt, shame or abandonment.
Remember that each habit offers you a reward. Otherwise, you would not want to take action to get it. You develop an increasing desire to get the reward at the end of each habit. This is why changing one’s bad habits are so difficult.
Any routine that goes against your long-term goals is a bad habit.
If these unhealthy routines persist, it is largely because they are rooted in virtually all habits that lead us to short-term rewards. Our brain is designed to pay more attention in the short term than in the long term, even if you logically know that these long-term goals are essential. In other words, you are acting against your own interests. To get rid of it, you must be able to combat this short-term attention and have a clear reason to chase away this bad habit.
We have all fallen into the trap of falling back into bad habits. This unhealthy self-destructive behavior may feed the desire to go back in time and fix the things you might have ruined. Don’t feel bad for slipping back into your unwanted behaviors, but instead be ready by planning a counter-attack against them once they come crawling back.