Addictions are rife in our society. Innumerable people struggle to loosen the hold of a negative habit which seems to keep them captive.
Addictions, or bad habits, can come in the form of the obviously-damaging such as drugs, alcohol, over-eating, cigarettes etc. Then there is the other type of addiction which seems to be more sociably acceptable such as texting, Facebook, blackberry or behaviours like gossiping, being judgemental or carrying unforgiveness. All of which can be just as harmful in your brain.
And that’s the key; it all starts in the brain. It has been scientifically proven that any addiction can be overcome within 21 days. The mind is something we have complete control over.
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Years ago I had the opportunity to meet and work with renowned brain scientist, Dr Caroline Leaf. She has toured the world delivering talks and workshops, and she had some amazing insights and information regarding her groundbreaking research.
One part of her studies and experiments covered the topic of addiction or bad habits. What she found was not only exceptionally interesting, it was also encouraging as she detailed just how manageable it is to break an addiction.
It takes 21 days to break a bad habit or addiction.
That’s right: 21 days.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve suffered from the addiction for a few months or twenty years; you can be on your way to a life free of any habit after just three weeks of ‘work’.
This all might sound like a lot of hard work and PT, but ask yourself why the best diets in the world never seem to work with certain people. You can have all the rules and measurements in front of you, but if haven’t rewired your brain to think differently you won’t ever be able to sustain a lifestyle different to the one you are trying to change.
There are five steps to the process for each vice which you want to conquer.
Step One: Put a Filter on the Incoming Thoughts
The first process is to gather awareness and take inventory of your thoughts. Now just reading that advice it might sound a little ‘tooty-fruity’, but look a little deeper into the explanation.
It is of paramount importance to be aware of both your habits and your desires. Your actions are diagnostic of what you are thinking. So to prevent yourself from doing something, you have to first stop yourself from thinking about it.
No thought is harmless. Don’t ever forget that part. What you may think is just a ‘passing thought’ is actually a seed which you are planting within your mind.
In order to ‘detox’ your brain it is essential to make a change in your thinking. Actively controlling your thought-life means not letting thoughts recklessly rampage through your mind. It means learning to engage with the thoughts that you have, and to analyse them before you decide either to accept or reject it.
Research has shown that you have 48 hours to stop a thought from being implanted in your brain (i.e. before a temporary memory becomes a permanent memory), so you need to learn to break the addiction before it can take root in your brain (break the habit before it becomes a habit).
A simple example of this would be: somebody you know says something to which you take offence. You then feel hurt and think a negative thought about that person. If you allow that to simmer and don’t address it, both the offence and the negative thought towards that person take root in your brain. This turns into a permanent memory, and your feelings of offence, judgment, unforgiveness and bitterness all become habits. So these almost become your ‘default’ emotions.
If you are trying to give up smoking, and you think to yourself “it would be nice to have a cigarette now”, immediately deal with that thought by telling yourself that you don’t really want it, or remind yourself of the dangers and negative aspects of smoking. When you start to miss it and how good it tasted or made you feel, you almost start obsessing about it and you are effectively ‘watering’ the seedling of your addiction in you mind.
You need to consciously take the power away from a negative thought.
Step Two: Start Self-Reflection
You need take some time out of your busy schedule and provide yourself with some ‘quiet time’. You need to think deeply about your thought life (think about what you are thinking about).
Think about how it is impacting yourself and the people around you. And start to pick up the patterns of what and when you are thinking certain things. Proverbs tells us that through thinking deeply we will achieve wisdom
Start to discipline yourself with regards to your thought patterns. Start to notice the harmful thoughts and don’t fuel them or encourage them, but rather snuff them out and turn your focus to something else.
Step Three: Write it all Down
Keep a journal.
If you’re a man, this may sound a bit feminine, but the benefits of journaling in situations like these have been proven in a multitude of case studies and experiments.
By journaling your thoughts and observations you immediately start to bring order out of chaos. It’s important to remember that while you are doing this step you don’t stop doing steps one and two. Keep them going simultaneously.
On a scientific note the benefit of journaling is that the brain amplifies everything you’ve written down and causes protein synthesis to occur (which is the building of the cells).
By writing down what you have gathered and reflected upon, you have also created for yourself a practical crutch as your journal will now be something visual to support you.
(Also read: five uncommon addictions)
Step Four: Identify the Patterns
Revisit your journal and study what you have written. Start looking for patterns in your thought life (e.g. this negative/harmful thought is coming up seven times a day, others might be coming up once or twice a week).
Now develop a plan on how you are going address these thoughts and issues.
Write down how you are going to work through and solve the problems in your mind.
If it is someone who you have been harbouring negative feelings towards then you would need to write down a plan to work it out. You would need to first repent/acknowledge your ill-feelings and forgive them for any offence you feel they caused you. Then you would need to talk to them, let them understand how you have been feeling, and how you have ‘cleaned the slate’ in your mind.
If it is giving up something such as a ‘consumption addiction’ like certain foods, drugs, alcohol, pornography, cigarettes, then write down a plan for that.
Along the lines of:
a) I acknowledge and repent (turn away from) my addiction to such and such
b) I need to stay away from person x as he or she encourages me to consume that
c) I need to talk to person z so they understand what I am going through and can support me on this journey
d) I need to not drive past this shop/bar as I can’t resist the temptation to buy something there.
Keep the object of your addiction out of your sight and you will be a big step closer to keeping it out of your mind.
Step Five: Put Your Plan into Action
It’s now time to take all your information, understanding and plans and put them into action.
If it’s to do with a person, now is the time to reach out speak to them. If it’s to do with another type of addiction or bad habit, now address the issue.
What this does in your brain is turn a temporary memory into a permanent memory. So you have basically rewired your brain to form new, good habits and are able to live a healthier, happier life.
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