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What Are Habits and Are Habits Good for Us?

Habits are a very essential part of our life. In fact we couldn’t function effectively or properly without them. The ability to form habits is an important function of our brain and we have the ability to program any habit we desire into our subconscious. Unfortunately not all the habitual behaviour that is in our subconscious is serving us in a way that enhances our great potential.

As with all habitual actions, our minds become conditioned by repetition to a point where you can do things unconsciously. When we do things for the first time we use our conscious mind to really focus on what we are doing. We analyse what and how we are doing it, if the result is something we perceive is a benefit to us and want to do again. The more we do the same thing the more it becomes ‘hard-coded’ into our subconscious mind therefore taking less conscious effort to repeat the actions. After continued repetition, these series of actions can be so fixed in your subconscious mind you may not be consciously aware you are doing them at all.

Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a very positive adaptation for most of our everyday actions and it serves us very well. It frees up our conscious mind to focus on newer tasks or important things that need our closer attention. Imagine if each time we did them we had to give too much thought to; brushing our teeth, getting dressed, picking up a glass of water and drinking from it, turning the handle on a door and opening it, walking, typing on a keyboard. Plus here’s a good one; using your tongue to push food around your mouth and teeth so it gets chewed properly before swallowing. You had to learn how to do that to some degree as a young toddler without biting your tongue, though now you don’t even realise you do it until a piece of food gets stuck and you have to think about where your tongue is to move the food. If you actually focus on your tongue while you are chewing normally you will notice your tongue is extremely busy and doesn’t stop moving, while very rarely gets bitten. Imagine if you had to concentrate on doing that all the time.

We develop many learned helpful actions and habits when we are very young, plus more like how to operate your pushbike, motorbike or car as we get got older. My point is that if we do the same actions often enough, particularly if they are a reaction or response to a particular circumstance, they become what we call habitual behaviour. This includes things like snacking on certain foods, drinking tea or coffee, smoking, gesturing with your hands when talking, and yes drinking alcohol.

Many habits have ‘triggers’ that are associated with them and they can be different to each individual. Triggers can be things like a smell, type of food, music or sounds, time of day or night, particular movie or TV program, rainy weather, a place or particular person/s. Anything that you closely associate to your habit can be a trigger that may signal to your brain that you should be now engaging in that habitual behaviour. The trigger event initiates a chemical and physical response that at times can be completely subconscious and you find yourself having done the habitual behaviour without even realising it. Again this can be very beneficial, or very counter-productive, depending on the behaviour.

Drinking alcohol is a habit that people often form when young and after continued repetition can become a serious dependency. Some people begin drinking alcohol to feel adult, to fit in, feel confident or feel uninhibited. However, as the use is continued for these reasons and is hard-coded into the subconscious, it becomes habitual. The need for alcohol is triggered whenever those same conditions present themselves again, even if it is inappropriate. It is your subconscious mind telling you to use alcohol and it takes conscious effort to resist. Unfortunately if the person is already affected by alcohol, the reasoning function of the conscious mind becomes impaired and the subconscious mind will more than likely win out.

In my book Alcohemy I discuss how in thirty days we can rewire our brains to replace negative alcohol-related behaviour with new positive habits. We simply need to change the habitual response behaviour to the trigger events. Habitually drinking alcohol and chronic alcohol abuse can be reversed.

I would be very interested to read your comments or about experiences you have where you (or someone you know) has had problems with subconscious habitual behaviour, especially if alcohol-related. Please add your comments below.

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  1. I find that fasting is a good way to “reset” these subconscious responses. It kind of puts a fast stop to habitual behavior, and forces you to encounter the present moment. These can be dietary fasts (great for eliminating alcohol cravings), news fasts, or spending money fasts. You get the idea. It’s fun to try them and can really cause you to think about where you are and what habits are not currently serving you.

    • It’s interesting that you find food fasting a help to reduce cravings for alcohol. I’m sure it helps you focus your thoughts in the present… as you have to exercise willpower to counter the natural urge to eat. However, I would use this method with caution. From my experience a drop in blood sugar and nutrients elicits a hunger reaction (a craving for food). In my book I explain how many cravings can be confused with each other and can lead to using the wrong substance to satisfy the craving. Personally, I used to actually feel more like drinking alcohol the more hungry I became. It was the same with cigarettes when I used to smoke… I smoked more cigarettes when I was hungry. Having a drink or a cigarette seemed to satisfy my craving for food. Being hungry ended up being one of my ‘triggers‘ for using alcohol and cigarettes, instead of having something healthy to eat or drink.

      I’m glad food fasting works for you, though I would recommend to most having a more steady level of nutrition in their system at all times. This keeps your blood sugar levels stable and can prevent the cravings that go with low energy and hunger. Feeling both physically and emotionally satisfied as much as possible, is one of the keys to reducing the desire for harmful external substances as a substitute. We are all different, so if it works for you then that’s great. In your case the end will justify the means 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you David, I don’t find food fasting to be helpful unless you are working with a qualified health professional. I do find the general idea of fasting helpful, though, especially regarding the news or other bad habits. So what I tried to say is that a person could take a “fast” from any bad habit that is getting in the way of success.

    I’ve read here and there that dietary fasts can help reduce alcohol cravings, although I’ve never tried it to stop alcohol cravings as my blood sugar is really wacky. Being hungry is definitely one of my triggers to drink as well. I like what you say in Element 9 about this subject and am in total agreement. Those small protein snacks really help!

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