Those who have been there themselves know all too well that breaking old, self-destructive habits is not easy. The same also applies to picking up new healthy ones as well. Doing either requires not only willpower but also a great deal of time and patience. According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, for better or worse, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days before most men and women can form new habits or bid farewell to old ones.
How the Human Brain Can Stand in the Way of Real Change
Whether we realize it or not, our brain plays an integral role in just about everything that we do in life. It also influences how those things affect us on an emotional, psychological, and physical level. With that in mind, let’s learn more about how the brain factors into the equation when it comes to breaking old habits or picking up new ones. As human beings, we are driven to engage in certain behaviors, initially, due to how they make us feel. For example, some individuals develop a drinking problem because they enjoy the euphoria that is a byproduct of drinking alcohol.
That same euphoric feeling is what drives them to keep drinking until the very act of doing so becomes habitual. This premise further applies to other forms of substance abuse or addictive behaviors in general. Understanding that emotions are the driving force behind why we engage in many behaviors that ultimately become long-term habits, let us now take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the parts of the brain associated with those emotions:
Hypothalamus – This part of the brain is responsible for regulating body temperature. It is also involved in regulating the emotional and sexual response, not to mention releasing certain hormones into the bloodstream. All in all, the hypothalamus influences a wide range of behaviors. And while many of these behaviors are necessary to keep the body functioning, they sometimes have a hand in triggering negative habits that are difficult to break. Some of the more notable ones include the following:
- Sexual addiction
- Physical aggression
Hippocampus – This particular part of the brain, located in the medial temporal lobe, allows individuals to store and retrieve memories. And this is critical to note since there is a nexus between conscious and subconscious behaviors and our memories. That said, the hippocampus explains why quitting smoking is difficult for some smokers. After all, it is easy for them to recall the feeling of relaxation that washes over them each time they smoke a cigarette. The same is generally true for those who struggle with quitting alcohol and other substances.
Amygdala – One’s environment can sometimes be an obstacle that stands in the way of making positive and meaningful life changes. And this is where the amygdala, located next to the hippocampus, comes into the picture. This part of the brain is responsible for feelings of fear and anger that stem from environmental triggers. That stated, it can be exceedingly difficult for some individuals to make positive changes in their life depending on the environment in which they live and work.
Limbic cortex – Rounding out the parts of the brain that affect human emotion and overall behavior is the limbic cortex. This part of the brain is involved in motivation, judgment, and overall mood. In short, the limbic cortex shapes how we see and perceive the world around us, not to mention how we interact with it.
How to Outsmart Your Brain and Live a Healthier and Happier Life
Although human beings are hardwired to behave in a certain way based on brain chemistry and how various regions of the brain function, it doesn’t mean we have no say in the matter. There are many ways to outsmart your brain and become the best version of yourself possible, some of which include the following:
Sports and exercise – Most physicians agree that being physically active is good for the body; however, it is also good for the mind. Studies show that playing sports, engaging in exercise, or just being physically active in general elevates the heart rate, which, in turn, triggers an uptick in the release of critical neurotransmitters in the brain that aid in decision-making. These neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Meditation – When it comes to making any life changes, doing so is no easy task if you’re feeling stressed. That said, meditation is an excellent way to cope with and even overcome the stress in one’s life. On a side note, meditating for just a few minutes each day can also lower high cortisol levels in the body that would otherwise lead to weight gain.
Hormone health – To the surprise of many, hormonal imbalances can interfere with decision-making tasks. And this is commonly observed in individuals with either below-average HGH levels or a complete and utter deficiency. Cost of HGH therapy can vary and mostly depends on a chosen brand and terms of treatment. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, a decline in HGH production can have a significant impact on the brain insofar as it can trigger the following:
- Reduced neuroprotection
- An increase neurogenesis
- Impaired cognitive function
Sleep – There are several reasons why getting the 7 to 9 hours of deep restorative sleep recommended by the National Sleep Association is crucial. Firstly, the pituitary gland secretes most of the HGH that the body needs to function optimally while human beings are sleeping. Therefore, it stands to reason that those who are sleep deprived are more likely to have low HGH levels that, in turn, negatively affect their decision-making abilities. Second, not getting enough sleep can lead to daytime fatigue, which can take even more of a toll on decision-making.
Diet – Consuming a poor diet, especially one high in sugar, can take a toll on one’s decision-making abilities. According to several studies, a diet low in fiber and high in sugar, for example, can adversely affect blood sugar levels in the body over time. In turn, this can have a profound impact on brain health and even mood. For reference, some of these same studies have correlated consuming a poor diet with an increased risk of suffering from chronic depression and other mood disorders.
Final Thoughts: Mistakes to Avoid While Making Changes in One’s Life
In summary, it is best to avoid making impulse decisions if at all possible. Further, it is a good idea to hold off on making decisions if you’re feeling tired, hungry, or battling a hormonal imbalance. Of course, none of this can fully protect you against making poor decisions in life, but following this advice can, at the very least, lower the likelihood of it happening.