jeff noel is correct when he tells us that constant repetition is key in forming permanent habits. If we keep repeating behaviors, they become automatic. We can almost function on autopilot. Last month, bridge construction began on the road leading to my house. I have lived here for almost 30 years, and that road is my normal route home. Even though I know the road is closed, it’s amazing the number of times I have automatically headed toward that road, only to remember after missing the detour that comes before my usual turn. That worn path is ingrained into my brain.
The human brain has millions of well-worn pathways, formed from repetitive behaviors. This is why it’s so hard to break bad habits, and to unlearn automatic emotional responses. Certain triggers will kick in automatic responses. We have to unlearn those learned, deeply ingrained reactions. Sometimes in order to do that, we must avoid the triggers. A friend of mine told me that her son was doing very well after recovery from drug addiction, but that he was fearful of returning to his hometown. In his new environment, surrounded by new friends, he didn’t have the old triggers to past behaviors. Those old, deeply ingrained responses were stronger than the new and healthier learned behaviors. Statistics show that people who lose a significant amount of weight often struggle to keep the weight off, mainly because they tend to revert to those old behaviors that lead them to be overweight in the first place. Years ago, when I gave up cigarettes, it took quite awhile for me to feel comfortable around someone who was smoking. It can be so easy to cave in a moment of weakness, under times of stress, and reach for that drink, cigarette, or doughnut.
We each have our own demons, so to speak. Just yesterday I saw a quote by Janis Joplin that fits my own struggle to overcome my automatic response to stress. “You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow.” As someone who has been battling an anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember, those are words to live by. That concept, not worrying about things over which I have no control, has been a daily challenge. We all have a choice; we can give in to our ingrained behaviors or we can make a daily, continual effort to create new pathways. If we need a map to navigate then so be it. But if we continue on the new path, some day we will find our way home without having to consciously think about it.