Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Help to Break Bad Habits

My pal Vinnie worked on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Navy.  Arguably, he had one of the most demanding jobs on the ship, he controlled the movement and storage of aircraft both on and below deck -- a logistics nightmare with no room for error.  When he got out, it makes sense, he became a technical stage director. Some say his logistics training made him one of the best in the business.

Over his lifetime he traveled the world administering the technical set-up of hundreds of large-scale concerts, events, and meetings.  I could sit for hours, typically over a pint, and listen to his incredible stories of what he witnessed on-stage, and behind the scenes, working with music stars, the famous, and top corporate executives. "I'm going to put all of this in a book someday," he would say.  Then, my friend died of spinal cancer.

I wish he had written the book.

Will your tombstone read,"Just wait till tomorrow"?

I'm sure you know some too that have gone to their grave ready to quit smoking, write a novel, lose weight, record a song, get in shape, design a house, learn a second language, etc.  The aspirations of millions of people never get fulfilled because they could not change their habits. Are you headed for the same destiny?

Why are these things so hard? An NPR Morning Edition feature may have the answer.

In June of 1971 President Richard Nixon created the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.  He took this action in direct response to an alarming report that some 15 percent of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, were actively addicted to heroin  The office was chartered with starting a program of prevention and rehabilitation along with collection of data on the addicted servicemen once they returned home.

A well-respected psychiatric researcher named Lee Robins was assigned to the study and found that about 95 percent of the people who were addicted in Vietnam did not become re-addicted when they returned to the United States.  This was a shocking finding, in fact, many simply could not believe that heroin addiction (a really bad habit) just simply did not reoccur at home.

Dr. David Neal, writing about Habits, Behavior Change, and New Year's Resolutions, commented:

"Once a behavior had been repeated a lot, especially if the person does it in the same setting, you can successfully change what people want to do. But if they've done it enough, their behavior doesn't follow their intentions."-- David Neal

Environment's Key Role In Behavior Change

Neal says, our environments come to unconsciously direct our behavior. Even behaviors that we don't want, like smoking. He gives this example, "For a smoker, the view of the entrance to their office building — which is a place that they go to smoke all the time — becomes a powerful mental cue to go and perform that behavior."

Over time those cues become so deeply ingrained that they are very hard to resist. And so we smoke at the entrance to work when we don't want to. We sit on the couch and eat ice cream when we don't need to, despite our best intentions, despite our resolutions.

To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your non-dominant hand. What this does is disrupt the unconscious learned body sequences and allows your conscious desires to take over.  Think about it.  Then share with us how you disrupted your environment.
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” – Deepak Chopra 

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