Breaking Bad Habits: Your Best-Brained Self
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Quotes from this Interview:
"I exercise every day at the same time. Everyone knows. It's blocked off in my calendar. It’s a functional habit that has become something I can’t not do. It is an addiction in the sense that if I don't do it, I don't sleep as well at night, I'm irritable, my anxiety creeps up, my performance wanes." -- Dr. Brynn
Overcoming Non-Functional Habits: A conversation with Dr. Greg & Dr. Brynn
Dr. Greg Wells: Sometimes, when I am working out and I’m struggling massively, and I'm like, "Oh, great, the hydrogen ions in my muscles are blocking the calcium" and so on. I’m overthinking situations. I try not to do it, but I’m curious if you have found yourself in moments when you detect that your dopamine feedback loops are operating negatively? Or an example of when you find they are operating and helping you reinforce a positive habit?
Dr. Brynn: Absolutely. A good example of a nonfunctional habit that I've built for myself, that I've tried to cut out very desperately, is dessert after dinner – sugar, basically. I don't know, Greg, if you've ever tried to cut out sugar, but it's in everything. It's so hard.
There's a really great TEDx Talk, “Sugar is Not a Treat.” It goes through the science of how it is that sugar is not just in everything, but is a toxin for us. It disrupts every good process in our body. Anyway, so I've tried to cut that out. It's so hard, and absolutely you see that our society is built around this concept of dessert. It is a very tasty substance. There are all kinds of substitutes for it that are even more sugary, that actually lead you to want more sugar, which is in fact not blocking that dopamine feedback loop that is dysfunctional.
I’ve tried to reconstruct it, visualize it differently, identify it. To say, “I'm in this now, I know this is happening to me. I don't want it to happen anymore. It's an addiction. How do I interrupt it?" Sometimes I use the distraction effect. Sometimes, I try to interrupt it and block it. Still, not totally successful. Like two nights ago, I had ice cream for dessert. So, it’s still a work in progress, but that’s an example of one of those states that I wish was more functional.
On the other hand, much like yourself, I really like exercise. I exercise every day. I exercise every day at the same time. Everyone knows. It's blocked off in my calendar. All of my colleagues know, my assistant knows. It's my ideal time in the day, and now it’s exactly like I described – it’s a functional habit that has become something I can’t not do. It is an addiction in the sense that if I don't have it, if I don't exercise that day, I don't sleep as well that night, I'm irritable, my anxiety creeps up, my performance wanes.
When I don’t exercise, I also find my nutritional patterns are disrupted, my circadian rhythm is disrupted. I find my happiness is a little bit disrupted. My mind state is disrupted. Even my sense of, and this is what you were experiencing on your paddle board, gratitude. We know gratitude has such great ramifications for brain and body health and brain/body connections. That sense of gratitude is disrupted if I don’t exercise, along with my sense of patience and ability to concentrate. You name it.
So there are two examples that I think many of your listeners, and yourself even, might identify with that have been positive and negative, using the same mechanism, using the same feedback loop, basically having to say, "Listen, one's a functional habit and one's a non-functional habit.
GW: I really appreciate you being transparent with that. Thank you. I also have issues with ice cream. It's not going to go away anytime soon, unfortunately, but I'll try to manage it the best that I can with two kids at home!
Dr. Brynn's Top 4 Things to Do with Non-Functional Habits:
1) Distract Yourself at Peak Times: Eventually the routine gets over-written and you're less enticed ultimately
2) Develop a New Habit Instead: In rehab facilities they often 'prescribe' successively less 'harmful' habits to replace old ones (e.g. cigarettes for heroin addicts, coffee for cigarette addicts, tea for coffee addicts etc.) As example, if you usually binge-eat in front of the TV at night, as an example, develop a new nightly routine (e.g. like yard work) that doesn't facilitate the bad habit. Neurons that fire together wire together - do something different, eventually the bad habit gets over-written
3) Meditate, Visualize Your Success: Thoughts create actions, actions create behaviors, behaviors create patterns, patterns create routines, routines create habits... overcome obstacles by visualizing the work of overcoming them and the success of having done so.
4) Get Moving: Exercise is one of nature's best antidotes to bad behaviors, negative self-views, non-functional habits, anxiety, depression etc. - move consistently and performance in other areas will increase as well!
5) Listen to Inspiring Music: Music has a special spot in the human brain - it ignites areas of the brain involved in motivation, productivity, performance, and positive affect. Mitigate anxiety, withdrawal, exhaustion, self-doubt with music you find inspiring.
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