Developing Healthy Habits

Habits are learned automatic reflex responses or behaviors that become part of your brains memory. They are done without thought or unconsciously. They allow the brain to conserve energy which is important for the evolutionary process. Habits permit you to multi-task. Although according to John Medina PhD, a researcher and author, multi-tasking is ineffective for productivity. Most habits are learned at an early age usually from age 0 to 5-7 years when your brain is in its greatest learning state. This can make habits that are not helpful for you very difficult to unlearn and develop new beneficial  ones. Habits are reinforced by rewards or what you think works in the moment, immediate gratification, not by considering long term consequences. Unfortunately some habits can negatively your health and relationships with others.

The question that I want to answer for you is: What can you do to change a habit that rather than productive destructive? It important for you to understand what facilitates learning. According to Andrew Huberman PhD, a tenured professor and researcher at Stanford University, being alert, focused and getting a period of rest or relaxation later are all necessary for learning a new task or habit.

Training yourself to be alert and focused for longer periods of time can be a source of agitation, anxiety and confusion. This is because the brain produces the neuro (brain) chemicals acetylcholine and norepinepherine which not only stimulate the brain learning circuits, but also are part of your stress response. You lessen the affect of these chemicals by rewarding yourself with gratitude. This causes a release of dopamine which lowers the stress chemicals and elevates your mood. Your brain will naturally seek this same activity and response. When you get a restful night’s skleep with slow wave brain activity or practice mental rest or relaxation afterwards, these learning brain circuits are strengthened.

There are other actions that you can take to help develop a new habit. Link the habit to a cue to a activity that do on a regular basis. These could be opening a door, ending a phone conversation, waking up, lunch time or bed time. More frequent practices that are rewarded with gratitude, the faster that you will see results.

If your life is filled with stressful events which over load your nervous system, then unconscious unhealthy habits can take control because the brain will always choose a pathway that is familiar. Mental relaxation techniques such as meditation, Mindful Based Stress Reduction or HeartMath can be helpful.  An easy technique is the relaxing breath:

Place your tongue in the roof of your mouth and let your jaw muscles relax. Breathe out for a count of 5. Breathe in for a count of 4. Think to yourself the word relax. You can increase the exhale/inhale count as long as you exhale longer than you inhale. Repeat 2-3 times. Try to do it hourly during waking hours or link it to a cue described previously.

Join a group for cultivating friendships that will support you in learning a new healthy habit is a good way to achieve your desired result. Consuming dark chocolate ( at least 70% cacao) releases oxytocin the bonding brain chemical has been shown to strengthen the learning brain circuits. When you have several habits that you want to cultivate it better to do it stages to reduce being frustrated with the process.

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