“There is nothing permanent except change.” So wrote Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, some 2,500 years ago. He was big on reason and logic, but he was smart enough to also know that each coin has two sides. In other words, life is full of opposites. As such, the polar opposites of “permanence” and “change” sort of require each other. Thinking of his wise words, I wondered how he might feel about the troubles we all have developing healthy habits.
Who among us doesn’t have something that they do that isn’t exactly healthy? (Goodness knows I do.) Everyone has habits or “lazinesses” that we’ve developed over time which have led us into doing things which are against our own best health interests. Too much chocolate, pop, sugary drinks, junk and/or fast foods; too much alcohol; smoking; driving too fast; sleeping too little; too much computer or T.V. time; etc…the list goes on and on of things which we know are unhealthy, yet which many of us still find hard to stop.
Scientists are starting to understand why bad habits are so hard to break. “Pleasure centers” in the brain are often a part of the problem. When we choose to do one of those unhealthy things, certain chemicals are released in the brain that make us feel good. One chemical in particular, called “dopamine”, provides a “reward” that’s very powerful. It can drive us do the same thing again…and again…and again…even if we know that it is unhealthy. It’s brain chemistry that keeps us “hooked”.
Does this mean we’re all slaves to Master Dopamine? Not at all. Too many folks have overcome their addictions to very powerful dopamine stimulators for that to be true. But, it does help to explain why it isn’t as easy as “just say no” or “just do it”.
We have chemistry to overcome; it’s not just laziness or “weak character”. There are books galore and blog posts aplenty about methods and mindsets needed to create healthy habits. There are programs for your PC and apps for your phone.
Changing brain chemistry and overcoming Lord Dopamine can be done, but it usually takes a strong mixture of time, patience, and “stick-to-it-tiveness”. Plus, in my humble opinion, it takes picking one little thing that you want to change, sometimes even just one small part of one bigger thing. Then, you decide how to change just that one little behavior in way that works for you. We’re all so different; what works for you may not do so well for me. Finding your way to to create change is the key.
Remember, those two sides to the coin, though: you will have successess and failures. But, since nothing is permanent (except change), failing which eventually turn to success and, yes, successes may become failures. The point is to make change acceptable in your heart and allow yourself the wiggle room and time for each.
Big things start grow from small seeds. Or, as Confucius so wisely said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Choose your first step, the one that looks right to you, and begin the journey toward healthy habits – your way.
Posted – May 8, 2012