Humans are creatures of habit; we tend to drive the same way to work every day and drink the same brand of milk. Habits are our brain’s efforts to make things easier. When things become habitual, it takes less pre-frontal cortex effort to make decisions and thus is less energy demanding. This can be a positive thing.
However, in recovery, we want to change. Change in recovery means breaking out of our normal routine actions and making different choices. For many, bad habits can be a piece of the puzzle that prevents success in recovery.
The Comfort of Habits
If we know something is bad for us, a bad habit, why can’t we stop? While many people want to change their habits, substance use included, it doesn’t mean it is easy to do. As we may have experienced, doing something familiar to us often feels comforting, like watching a movie we have seen 100 times before.
Familiarity can provide a sense of safety and great comfort. While this is not always an issue, it can present problems in recovery if we look for comfort in substance use or activities that can lead to it. Our habits may feel comforting, but that does not mean they are helpful or will aid you in recovery.
The Pleasure of Habits
While it is not always stated as such, habits become hard-wired into the brain. For example, certain substances can cause a significant release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes pleasure and is generally released when we do something enjoyable. This makes it more challenging to change the habit as our brain prompts us to return to the habit that caused pleasure in the past.
Hard-wired routines or habits can be particularly hard to break. Recovery can be challenging because addiction is a disease. The disease causes physical reasons we are drawn back to our “bad habits” of substance use.
How Do I Know If I Have Bad Habits?
Actions that are done despite and regardless of an outcome are habits. A bad habit is an action that goes against our best interests. Within the context of recovery, this would include habits that are detrimental to our betterment.
There are many ways to discover our bad habits, some of which include:
Those we spend time around watch our behavior from the outside and can sometimes see things we miss. It is completely normal not to notice things about ourselves that we do not want to see or change. Habits feel good; therefore, there is a natural resistance to changing them. Asking for help from someone we trust is one way to see ourselves from their eyes, potentially getting a different view of our habits.
Keeping a Journal
A journal does not have to be a diary, but writing can be incredibly helpful in deciphering things that may seem murky in our minds. Ways to keep a journal may include taking note of when we are struggling in recovery and if any habits or actions may correlate with these feelings.
Journaling can also include making a list of habits we have and things we do regularly and noting how they make us feel. It takes time to discover how our habits affect ourselves and others, so it’s crucial to be patient with ourselves. We must allow ourselves time to explore; it may take time to see and accept that some habits may be preventing us from success in our recovery.
How Habits Can Inhibit Recovery
Recovery is the process of changing our lives. It takes courage, time, and a lot of effort to undergo the process of rewriting how our lives look. While we may feel ready for change, the hard-wired habits that currently exist in us need to be investigated and changed, for many of these habits can prevent the success of recovery.
While some may be more chemical, a drawback to using a substance, others may be behavioral, like going to places where others are using substances. Recovery is not as simple as just not using a substance; it is the process of changing what, where, and how we do things.
How to Improve Bad Habits
While it may seem like an insurmountable task at first, habit change is a process that is often easier when broken down. It’s okay if we feel like the list of habits to change is too long to do all at once; in fact, this is very normal. A more palpable approach is to choose one habit to focus on. If the habit feels too big, try selecting a smaller habit or maybe a piece of it.
The goal is not to change everything at once but to change just one thing. It is essential to be patient with ourselves; it will take some experimenting to figure out what works. Remember, recovery is a learning process, and change does not happen overnight.
Things that can help to change bad habits include:
- Replacing the bad habit with a healthier habit, like drinking soda water instead of soda
- Incentivizing ourselves, such as taking ourselves out to dinner if we complete the habit goals we set up for ourselves
- Finding community support, a person or group we are accountable to
- Making the habit goal manageable so it feels like we can do it
- Accepting that we might make mistakes and do our best to make an effort day to day regardless of our success the previous day
Sometimes you have bad habits that you may struggle to change, inhibiting your recovery process. It can feel overwhelming to decipher what habits you need to change and then undergo the process of change. It is essential to be patient with yourself as you move transition your life. Focusing on one habit you want to change can help make the process manageable and allow you to focus energy on making one change at a time. Everyone benefits from a guide, having someone who can help you to navigate the challenging of recovery and habit change. At 449 Recovery, we aim to guide you, helping you discover bad habits and build improved habits to aid in your recovery. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one, call us today at (949) 435-7449.