Bad habits and brains

Your brain - don't try this at home, kids!
Your brain – don’t try this at home, kids!

I’ve got so many bad habits they virtually have to queue up for my attention.

But bad habits don’t mean you’re a bad person. Bad habits, and good habits too, form in response to neurochemistry: we do things that make us feel good, or at least less bad.

Alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, chocolate, and other chemical addictions are immediate brain triggers. Stimulants perk us up, while others calm us down. Over time, that chemical habit becomes a physical habit – you might grab a morning coffee on your way to work, for instance, which embeds the habit even further. Of course, that morning coffee may mean you sleep less well, so you’re more tired the next day, so you really need your coffee.

But there are non-chemical habits too. Do you put off doing your tax? That’s your neurochemistry again: you remember times in the past when you’ve had to rummage around to find things, and that’s stressed you. Alas, when you access those memories, your brain helpfully triggers the spurt of adrenaline that goes with it, so you feel stressed again, so you avoid doing anything or even thinking about it, which reinforces the tax avoidance habit.

Knowing why you have these bad habits doesn’t immediately break them, but it does help: once you know why you’re doing it, you have a better chance of replacing the bad habit with a good one, or at least a less bad one.

Meanwhile, I rather hung one on last night, so I’m going to lie down in a darkened room and whimper quietly.

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