Why Habits Are So Hard to Break

Why Habits Are So Hard to Break

The Process of Entrainment

Have you ever noticed yourself getting stuck doing the same thing over and over again? It may be a pattern you engage in frequently, such as opening a social media app. Or, perhaps it’s a pattern that takes longer to repeat, such as creating the same type of heartache in your life — again and again in multiple relationships.

It’s easy to do what you’re used to doing. It’s easy to be who you’re used to being, because habits form easily. You get used to things, which makes them familiar, which makes them comfortable. To break a habit… well, it almost sounds painful!

Breaking a habit means being suddenly unused to things and unsure of what you’re doing. Things become unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It’s little wonder, then, that habits can be so difficult to break. The more comforting a habit is, the more resistance you are likely to feel when breaking it. So, why bother breaking them at all?

To state the obvious, healthy habits (such as regularly brushing your teeth) are healthy, whereas unhealthy habits (such as regularly binge eating) are unhealthy. So, one possible reason to break habits is to become healthier, if those habits are unhealthy. Yet, there is also another important reason to break habits. By keeping you stuck on repeat, habits delay your growth.

Although you may no longer be getting any taller, you never stop growing. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t slow down the process…

Your nervous system operates and adapts through a process of entrainment. This means that your neurons enable you to function by firing synchronously with the signals of other neurons. The more in sync your neurons are firing, the stronger the overall signal is. This is why habits are so easy to form. Essentially, habits maintain the rhythm of neuronal signaling rather than changing that rhythm. This then makes the signals stronger and clearer than they would otherwise be.

To break a habit is to retrain your nervous system to no longer keep playing an old rhythm. It requires you to switch up the beat. So, how might you do that more easily?

1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you treat discomfort as being “bad” or “problematic”, you will resist it. Your resistance towards discomfort will then amplify that discomfort whenever you do something that is uncomfortable. Instead, choose to accept and welcome discomfort, knowing that it will help you to grow in the same way that the discomfort of your muscles at the gym helps them to grow.

2. Make a habit of breaking habits.

If you frequently switch up your routines, breaking habits becomes much easier. For example, you could frequently switch to using your other hand when brushing your teeth, take a walk in a new place when you go outside, or randomly take a break from a weekly habit for 2 weeks. By training your nervous system to expect the unexpected, less effort is required for you to break stronger habits.

3. Opt for a growth mindset.

If you treat growth as an inconvenience, you will subconsciously seek to avoid it. If you treat growth as a goal, you will subconsciously seek it out and be pleased when you achieve it. Opt for the latter. If you know that you’re learning, you’ll know what you’re doing.

Though it may at first feel like you become less certain and less capable when breaking a habit, the result of doing so is the development of new capabilities. The less stuck you are in your habits, the more versatile you are, which allows you to handle a wider range of circumstances.

Learning to be more versatile is part of the fun of traveling to foreign destinations, where so much of what you encounter is so different than what you are used to. But, why limit the fun to just the occasional vacation? By breaking your habits, you allow the familiar to become unfamiliar. And, in that unfamiliarity there is room for wonder, learning, growth, and gratitude for the gloriousness of life. As you keep breaking your habits, plant their pieces in the fertile soil of life. The things that grow from them may well amaze you.

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