Changing a bad communication habit into a more respectful one sometimes seems impossible. It’s as though a little demon lives in your brain blocking every effort to…lose weight; begin an exercise program; stop sniping at your loved ones; stop procrastinating; clean up the clutter…you name it. Whatever the habit is that you want to change, good intentions aren’t enough. Why is it so hard to improve communication habits?
How the Brain Works
The explanation about why it’s so hard to change is found in recent brain science, such as presented in The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I confess I couldn’t wade through the entire book, but what I read confirmed what I already knew. There is some force at work against me when I try to trade a poor habit for a better one.
Our brains LOVE habits. Our brains don’t judge habits, ”This one is bad and needs to be discarded…that one is good, let’s keep that one.” Instead, the brain assumes ALL habits are necessary for our survival. The brain is designed to depend on habits rather than needing to think through every act, every day before moving forward. Without our brain’s attachment to habits, we’d use an enormous amount of energy deciding, as though for the first time, to brush our teeth, or put leftover food in the frig. We’d have to re-learn how to drive a car, or even how to walk! Habits are designed by the brain to save us time and energy. That is a good thing…until it isn’t!
Repetition Eventually Creates a New Path
With repetition, eventually clears a new path. The blood supply leaves the old pattern and supports the new pattern.
The rub is that this process takes time and repetition…while feeling the pull of the force that wants…longs…for us to return to the former, stronger habit.
Habits Are Good…Until One Isn’t!
A habit fires off a certain chain of electrons in the brain over and over again until blood supply is attracted to support that particular pattern. When we decide to abandon one behavior and try a new one, it confuses the brain. Each step requires that a new pattern of electrons be fired in a brain area that is unfamiliar, like trying to walk through an area of forest that is covered with weeds and brambles.
I experienced this conflict between my old habit of shooting sarcastic put-downs to my husband Jim when I was unhappy with him and my new commitment to always treat him with respect. It took a few weeks before speaking to him with respectful language became more natural…easier. Even then, for a while, if my anger was triggered, my impulse was to go back to the familiar habit of a sarcastic put-down.
The good news is eventually even that occasional impulse to sarcasm disappeared. The old pattern was replaced by the new pattern of respectful speaking at all times. Learn how I was able to improve communication habits in my book, “How to Stay Married & Love It!”
Now I’m applying what I understand about my brain to creating other new, healthful habits. I’m walking about a mile every morning. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now, and find that on a morning that I skip the walk, I miss it! I have plenty of other habits that I want to exchange for better ones, but one at a time seems to work best.
Does This Help?
Does this understanding help you as you fight through the resistance to a new, better habit? Don’t give in to your brain’s attachment to the old habit! It will give it up in just a few more weeks of persistence.
You have my love and support,