Insight from Gateway Expert: How to Break a Habit

John Larson Gateway Treatment Centers

Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director
Gateway Treatment Centers

A large portion of our waking lives is filled with habits of behaving that seem almost automatic. For instance, we may walk into the bathroom first thing in the morning and immediately reach for a toothbrush and toothpaste. The fresh taste and sweetness of the toothpaste triggers a small response in the reward center of the brain, and the behavior is reinforced.

In fact, habitual behaviors like brushing one’s teeth create pathways in the brain that actually change its chemical activity in a way that is similar to the change produced by addictive substances. The stronger and faster the behavior affects that reward center, the quicker a habit is formed.

So, what’s the best way to break a bad habit?

Form a good habit that is incompatible with the behavior we are trying to change, and “stick with it!” The reward of that new behavior may not be apparent at first. Research suggests it takes an average of several months to form a new habit through repetition so we have to be mindful and make a concerted effort to “stick with it” until new connections to the brain’s reward center are formed. When that happens, the new behavior becomes easier and easier, and as a result we have a new healthier habit to replace a less desirable one. If we “stick with it,” together we can reap the benefits of enhanced wellness in 2015 and beyond!


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