If your New Year’s resolutions have ground to a halt, there’s still hope! Dr. Nora Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She says that as far as our brains are concerned, there’s not much difference between eating an entire box of chocolates and using drugs. That’s because doing anything we enjoy – even something as simple as eating potato chips – creates a rush of feel-good dopamine, and because it puddles in the part of the brain that controls behavior, whatever you’re doing at that moment becomes linked to the pleasurable feelings. So, if you were watching TV and enjoying a treat, the next time you turn on the tube, you’ll also crave a snack. So, here’s how to outsmart your brain and break bad habits, courtesy of the Associated Press:
- First: Be realistic. Northwestern University psychologist Dr. Loran Nordgren says that most of us overestimate our ability to change. So, someone who regularly eats in front of the TV may think they can survive their regular Friday night lineup without a junk food fix, but the pleasure-behavior link is so strong they’ll eventually give in. The fix: Turn off the TV, and eat at the table for a few weeks. That’ll help you break the connection so you can watch without eating.
- The next way to break a bad habit: Establish a new routine. The idea here is to replace old habits with new ones. For example, if you’ve resolved to get more exercise, your best bet is to hit the gym at the same time every day instead of trying to “fit it in.” When you’re on a schedule, it’s harder to come up with an excuse not to do it. It may be a drag at first, but eventually your brain will recognize your new habit and you’ll feel worse if you don’t work out.
- Finally: Reward yourself. Dr. Kevin Volpp runs the Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania. He says that giving yourself an occasional bonus TRIPLES your chances of reaching a goal. So, even if you’re dieting, if you want an occasional dinner at a fancy restaurant, go for it. Bottom line: If that one monthly meal saves you from a daily dose of junk food, you’re still way ahead.