“Five more minutes should be fine.” “I can start working on my projects in an hour.” “I deserve some rest.” “I’ll start working out tomorrow.” “I´ll quit these bad habits next month.”
No matter where we’re from, or what we look like, unpleasant habits seem to have no preference for who they possess. All we hear in our minds is that five more minutes of sleep, playing video games or scrolling through social media, and so on won’t hurt anybody. Everything seems calm until those deadlines give us a cold wake up call. Welcome back to reality. That university project, the pile of papers to submit, or those meetings with your boss aren’t going to get done by themselves. And you end up wishing you wouldn’t have taken that break of “five” minutes that, out of nowhere, turned into two hours.
This happens to me more than I would like to admit. That’s the tricky thing about time: It never seems to be on our side. When we anxiously await something, time seems to pass slower than ever. And then, when we need it the most, it seems to pass faster than lightning.
The dilemma of bad habits.
We all struggle with our bad habits. Once they establish and invade our lives, the battle begins. Most of the time, those habits win power over us, causing us problems within ourselves, our projects, health, and personal life. They are a nightmare. They come out of nowhere, conquering our ability to make the best decision for ourselves.
Now that you are reading this, I guess you have started thinking about your own bad habits. Maybe it’s procrastination, not finishing work, or getting into sports clothing only to lie on the couch and do nothing for hours. That’s when you realize that something has to change.
Dopamine and the reward system.
The well-known molecule dopamine is in charge of dispersing pleasure and wellbeing into the body. The more dopamine your brain releases, the more motivation and desire you will have. The dilemma is not with the dopamine, but with our actions such as smoking, drinking, playing video games, overeating, and so on. All of these actions tend to motivate us, since there is a potential reward in our brain. However, when the potential reward is not manifested, the desire and motivation won’t impulse us anymore. A clear example is when we enroll in the gym on January 1st, but lose the motivation and desire to go after a week has passed and we see no obvious changes in our bodies.
“Homeostasis, or better called, your new normal.”
As human beings, stability plays an important role in our overall well-being. The more stable we are in our life, the more joyful we will be. Our body is similar. Our bodies longing for a stable environment, resistance to change, and a need for balance, is called homeostasis. After some time, our body develops a tolerance to the dopamine creating this balance that our body longs for, becoming our new “normal state”.
How many of us have experienced the strong desire to snooze our alarm in the morning only to end up having to skip our breakfast in a rush to catch the bus. When this scenario is repeated almost every day, it becomes part of our routine. It does not matter if we are aware of it- once this routine becomes our new normal, modifying it becomes a challenge of its own.
Challenge yourself to dopamine fasting. Grab a calendar and pick one day out of the week where you are going to avoid all the “little” pleasures or harmful habits that tend to distract you. Instead, on that particular day, try to replace those bad habits with good ones. Go for a walk, read a book, or meditate. It will “starve” you of unpleasant habits, making those less satisfying activities more desirable. A second alternative is to hack your brain by connecting dopamine to the things that benefit you. Use a potential reward system when tackling your goals. The key is to not think about what you have to do, but about what you will get from doing it.
The secret of a better future is hidden in our daily routine.
Motivation is important but unfortunately unstable. The day we wake up without motivation, is the day that our improvement is going to stop. Don’t allow yourself to go one step back, but build the discipline to always go one step ahead. Every first day of the month you can send yourself a letter to the future. You can write down your goals, or a detox schedule, and receive it via email the following month. Then, you can compare and see your improvement. This way you will also be able to track your goals and achievements.
Your potential reward will always be at the end of the month when you get your letter and you will either feel satisfied or disappointed based on how well you have done that particular month. Start with atomic habits, creating systems to help you achieve what you want. Then, continue with a small change where you may barely notice any improvement. In the end, the result is going to be big. Base your good habits on discipline and pull through your detox to avoid a resistance that creates a new normal.
In order to achieve a fulfilling life, it’s important to start now. “The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine,”- Mike Murdock. Don’t be the one who always shows up late, who often gets sick due to bad lifestyle habits, or the one who wants to make better decisions but is still stuck in a poor routine. Let’s pull through it, and start now!
Header image by Suliman Sallehi on Pexels.