I lost motivation to exercise last year. I fell off of my training schedule when the lockdown first started and putting myself back into a routine of running after months seemed almost impossible. Today, I will run for an hour a day after I finish classes, like I did the day before, and the day before that as well. I pulled myself out of a cycle of self-indulgence and denial and bettered my mind and my body when I committed to healthy habits.
Comfort + Indulgence
Traditional bad habits, such as overeating or not exercising, are the result of being stuck in perpetual comfort. The comfort facilitates an opposition to change. Moreover, habits such as constantly blaming others or hiding behind a facade will start to form this toxic habit of comfort and unwillingness to change.
Habits are formed from the brain’s saving patterns of new actions. The brain releases dopamine after actions that feel good, which encourages repetition of the same action. That is why bad habits are so easy to form—the brain likes to be comfortable. If the brain can consume junk food to make taste buds happy and also deflect personal problems to alleviate stress, then it will continue to do so. The first step down the wrong path is to allow yourself to be enticed by temporary comfort because then your brain builds patterns to continue to stay in comfort.
This comfort is temporary. The happiness caused from satisfying the brain with these indulgences will last until death or active change. The reward system of the brain becomes warped and still makes the indulgence feel good even though consequences will start to show. Happiness and fulfillment have similar characteristics, but no fulfillment is achieved when indulging the brain. Gratification from overcoming challenges is the key aspect missing from perpetual comfort.
Physical and Mental Consequences
The effects of succumbing to the temporary comforts are both physical and mental. Too much of anything will result in harmful effects for the body. Bad eating habits lead to obesity, high caloric intakes, and even diabetes. Not all effects are this extreme, however; gaining weight, becoming more sluggish, and becoming less physically active are the most common effects of succumbing to comfort. Laziness especially is the killer of motivation. Relaxation is enjoyable, but a lack of exercise creates bad physical consequences and also deprives the mind of important chemicals that suppress anxiety and stress that are released during exercise.
The physical consequences of poor habits lead into the mental consequences. Lack of serotonin is bad, but unknowingly sabotaging your life is worse. For example, a common bad habit is to deflect blame and ignore large problems. Doing this can alienate loved ones and weigh on the conscience, all because your brain couldn’t handle being responsible. Another example is trying to fake a persona to please others. This convinces your brain that your true personality is not good enough. Bad habits alter your body, but they also peel away at the seam of your personal happiness. Temporarily satisfying yourself with easy deflections will wreck self-confidence, relationships, and mental strength. I speak from experience, as for years I acted as others expected me to, and I did not realize until I found time to be with myself and learn. During this time, I lacked self-confidence because I believed that my true personality was not good enough. Breaking physical bad habits is hard, and breaking mental bad habits is harder.
Breaking the Loop
Forming a bad habit is easy, but breaking it is much harder. It takes a desire to change, motivation, willpower, and time. Breaking bad habits can take from weeks to months, depending on how dependent the person is. The first step to breaking it is to set a realistic goal. Nobody is going to lose 50 pounds in 2 weeks, or just going to stop procrastinating altogether. By setting a realistic goal, achieving that goal becomes easier, and rewards the brain for completing it, counteracting the rewards for completing the bad habit.
The next step is the most helpful for both physical and mental habits: identifying the trigger that causes the brain to crave relief. The trigger can be as simple as seeing chocolate and identifying it as tasting good, or as complex as fearing social humiliation and turning into a different person to compensate. The trigger is the object or feeling that pushes the brain to revert into the flawed reward system. By identifying the trigger for the reward system, then work can start to be done on both fixing the roots of the problem, as I did with self-reflection, and also changing the reward system.
The final step is the longest and the hardest: change. After identifying the trigger and setting a goal, now work must be done to break the habit and achieve the goal. Mental fortitude is paramount for breaking the habit as depriving the body of the reward will hurt at first. After being dependent on the habit for a reward, finding different ways to please the brain is difficult. Sometimes, suppressing the urge is the best choice of action. Talking to others during this process strengthens willpower because powering through alone is tough. In order to not lose motivation, start building new ways to reward the brain, which will also turn into good habits as the brain finds other ways to reward itself.
Physical and Mental Benefits
Obviously, healthy habits will be beneficial to the body and the mind because bad habits harmed them. The physical benefits include being in better shape and being set up to live longer as a healthier person. The mental benefits revolve around self-acceptance and self-confidence. Positive self-reinforcement becomes evident as early as the change step, as changing for the better and having self-discipline will boost confidence. Knowing that positive change is happening as a result of personal willpower is rewarding. These new types of rewards are the building blocks for healthy habits. No longer will the brain require unhealthy food or emotional detachment in order to feel good. Temptation will still be present, so with a strong will, the bad habit will never return.
I mentioned my slow progress into daily exercise. I started the step of change after I realized that my physical health was as good as I wanted it to be. When I made this decision, I did some personal reflection. I found out that I have felt worse physically and felt worse about myself ever since I stopped running. I know that I should learn to love myself, but stopping the chemicals that are released when exercising was not the answer. I learned what was best for me and committed.