Establishing new behaviors requires planning and effort—especially when we’re also struggling with bipolar disorder. Luckily, research now shows that our habits are surprisingly malleable throughout life. Here are five tricks to harness this brain power to foster a healthier lifestyle:
#1 Learn your habit loops
We cycle through three stages for every habit, good or bad, according to Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. First is a “cue” that triggers the habitual behavior and second is the “routine,” which is the behavior itself. Finally, there’s “reward,” the activation of the brain’s opioid system, giving pleasure and cementing your desire to repeat this habit. We can overwrite this loop by substituting a different “routine” by paying attention to our patterns, perhaps by keeping a habit journal.
#2 Begin with belief
Experts discovered that willpower could be boosted by the power of attitude. They found that people who believe willpower is self-renewing performed better in cognitive tests than those convinced they only had a limited amount of willpower. Practicing positive affirmations such as “strenuous work can be energizing” may enable you to find more resources when fatigue starts to set in.
#3 Refine your reward
Changing a habit loop requires an open mind and a willingness to experiment as to what is indeed driving your behavior i.e. boredom, loneliness, a need to relax. Substituting different responses will help you identify what reward your brain is really craving. If you’re lonely, perhaps calling a friend will provide the same reward that watching TV currently does.
#4 Give yourself some space
Insert “time and space” into the habit loop in order to replace deeply ingrained behaviors. To overcome TV watching, for instance, you might set up an obstacle for yourself like keeping your remote in the freezer. Having to retrieve the remote creates an opportunity to reconsider your behavior and call a friend instead, while your chilled hand provides a tactile reminder of your intention to do something different.
#5 Make new habits
There’s a simple formula: tiny change plus immediate reward. Start with the smallest possible action of a new habit and then anchor this action to something you already do that you enjoy and then celebrate it. If you can learn to associate your new habit with something you already love, this will work in your favor.
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community