Monday, 14 December 2015

The Science of Habit Change

Part 14/14 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

Click here to listen and/or download this article as a professionally recorded AUDIO BOOK (45 minutes).

The opposite of addiction is CONNECTION

A recent study has shown that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather CONNECTION (watch this video for a 5 minute overview of this enlightening study). So if the suggested routines mentioned above don’t do the trick, it is likely that loneliness and isolation are the triggers and the brain is craving a “connection” reward. A porn addiction removes us from natural interactions with others and replaces it with intense, hyper stimulated responses to objectified people, giving us the illusion of connection. Recovering addicts need to re-learn how to be with real people in real, normal circumstances. Even if it feels like an enormous effort, socializing will help us regain a normal sense of people and relationships. So next time you feel triggered, get up and connect with some friends or go hug your kids and have a conversation with your wife.

On a similar note, one of the most common actions used in 12-Step groups to replace the acting-out routine is to pick up the phone to another member of the program and share our feelings. The rush of energy it takes to make the call and the connection we feel while on the call, etc. can replace the rewards that we have come to rely on by making us feel once again worthy, hopeful, alive, and most of all – connected. Experience has shown that members who have trained themselves to habitually “pick up the phone” every time they feel triggered have the highest rate of success. Instead of the illusion of connection with the images on the screen, we replace it with the real connection of another human being who understand us and reassure us that “it will be okay”. Over-time, the bad habit is simply replaced by this new routines. Instead of acting-out, we reach out.

The triggers may always remain the same, but as described in all the examples above (snack, nap, exercise, hobbies and connection) we can learn to replace the reward we crave with something else - something far more meaningful, and thus enable ourselves to change the routine.

The Group Aspect

And lastly, our odds of success go up dramatically when we commit to changing as part of a group. This is because, as explained earlier, “belief” is at the core of modifying many habit loops and plays a critical role in habit change. For change to be permanent, people must believe change is possible and that things will get better. And studies have shown that the strongest belief is born out of group support. Groups have a powerful effect on belief by providing shared experiences and opportunities for people to publicly commit to change.

To sum up this entire series:

If you want to change a habit, it usually helps to recognize the cue (“I always want to act-out when I feel stressed”), deliver the expected reward (“I feel more relaxed around friends”), but find an alternative routine (“Instead of looking at porn, I’ll go to a 12-Step meeting”). And with the belief in a higher power and the power of the group, we train ourselves to believe that change is really possible.