May 31, 2023

Changing Bad Habits—for Good

Habits are our friends—when they’re good ones. Habits are routines that help us repeat safe and effective behaviors and build consistency and security into our lives.

But bad habits can become addictions. In the past, the term addiction was used only to refer to problems with substances such as drugs, alcohol or nicotine. But addictions can include many behaviors and activities including gambling, shopping, overwork, sex, internet abuse and food.  

Brain on a Binge.  A hallmark of addiction is continued self-destructive behavior despite adverse consequences. When an addiction develops, what is happening in the brain? For one thing, the pleasure circuits in the brain become “hijacked” by the addictive substance or behavior, producing intense cravings.   

The Tangled Roots of Addiction. Addictions have many possible roots, including emotional, spiritual, physical, environmental and genetic sources. Addictions are strong—but the weapons available to win the war against addiction are even stronger. In any war it is important to have a plan in order to achieve a decided victory.  

If you think you have an addiction, work closely with a health care professional, especially if the addiction includes drugs or alcohol.  

The Learning Brain. Can bad habits be broken? God has designed the human brain—even in adulthood—with a powerful capacity to reshape itself according to what it learns and to even grow new connections, or neurons. Psychiatrist John Ratey explains: “Experiences, thoughts, actions, and emotions actually change the structure of our brains. By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be weakened or strengthened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become. Indeed, once we understand how the brain develops, we can train our brains for health, vibrancy, and longevity.” 1

Good habits can become just as strong as bad ones! Creating good habits works the same way as creating bad habits: doing the same thing over and over to set a pattern in the brain.  

Freedom Keys. Potent, powerful, and protective weapons are available to help you make and maintain permanent change over time. They include:  

  • Creating an Environment—Internally and Externally. Pay attention to your internal environment—your thoughts. Cultivate thankfulness in place of negativity. What you make up your mind to be, you will be.
  • Creating a Lifestyle. Positive lifestyle choices protect the brain and body, making it easier to cope with stress and enjoy new things to do in life. Daily exercise and eating plenty of nutritious foods builds mental strength and eases stress. Regular rest and plenty of water refresh the body and mind and prepare it for new challenges.  
  • Creating Connections. Get connected with friends who will encourage you in your new choices.  Personal growth takes place as we interact with others. Connecting with church and community resources makes our world bigger than our circumstances. It creates opportunities for giving, receiving, and learning communication skills, and building meaningful experiences.

Connections can provide support and accountability that increase long-term success.   

Establish or strengthen your connection with God. This will give you power to make positive choices and stick with them over time. God will help you discover your true value and purpose in life.   

1 Ratey J. User¹s Guide to the Brain (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2002) p. 17

Vicki Griffin is Michigan Conference’s health director.