Ease the Transition
There are a number of proven techniques which ease the restructuring of the brain and the reformation of habits. One of the most effective is novelty. Our brains are wired to seek the new as an evolutionary response—historically, we would have needed to investigate new stimuli in order to evaluate danger or benefit. When we are in the presence of the new—things such as a new place, a new person, or unfamiliar music—our cognitive abilities, and our ability to learn, increase. Research has proven that if we experience a new situation, even within a familiar context, we store the event in our memories much more easily. New environments are especially effective, as not only is memory stronger, but old cues which may have initiated a bad habit are no longer present. Those neural roads we mentioned earlier are more deeply entrenched from the beginning, and the old, undesirable roads, fainter. If you’re having trouble getting a change to stick, try it somewhere new!
Visualization is another powerful, brain-changing tool that anyone can use. The practice of imagining, in as great detail as you can, your end goal—the good habit—can aid in the process of change, no matter what you’re doing. Try it while you’re riding the bus, or lying in bed, or taking a shower—any idle time will do. The brain responds to imagined scenarios in a similar way that it responds to the real, so visualize what you want, and do it often.
We mentioned mindfulness as the first step of the change process, but don’t let it end there! The more you develop your attention, the less you’ll fall prey to thoughtless, automatic behavior. Maintain the habits that helped you begin the process of change, and you’ll retain and improve your ability to think critically about what you are doing at all times.
Finally, deeply ingrained and particularly destructive habits may require intervention from a professional. Counselors, doctors, and, in some cases, prescription drugs, may be the key to finally overcoming your vices. Sometimes behavioral changes can more easily be made while on, say, an antidepressant, and can then be maintained after withdrawing from the drug. Don’t be afraid to seek help when a destructive habit is interfering with your life.
Use these techniques to give yourself an advantage in your quest for self-improvement, and you’ll be forming new habits in as little as two months.