Monday, 14 December 2015

The Science of Habit Change

Part 6/14 (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 vital element of belief

At first researchers thought that AA succeeds solely by reprogramming participants’ habits. However, the first cracks in this theory started appearing a little over a decade ago. Researches began finding that habit replacement worked pretty well for many people until the stresses of life – such as finding out your mom has cancer, or your marriage is coming apart – got too high, at which point alcoholics often fell off the wagon. Academics asked why, if habit replacement is so effective, it seemed to fail at such critical moments. And as they dug into alcoholics’ stories to answer that question, they learned that replacement habits only become durable new behaviors when they are accompanied by something else: the element of BELIEF. Those alcoholics who believed that G-d or some higher power had entered their lives were more likely to make it through the stressful periods with their sobriety intact.

Even if you give people better habits, it doesn’t repair why they started drinking in the first place. Eventually they’ll have a bad day, and no new routine is going to make everything seem okay. What can make a difference is believing that they can cope with that stress without alcohol.

By putting alcoholics in meetings where belief is a given – where, in fact, belief is an integral part of the twelve steps – AA trains people in how to believe in something until they believe in the program and themselves. It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until things actually do. At some point, people in AA look around the room and think, if it worked for that guy, I guess it can work for me. There’s something really powerful about groups and shared experiences. It seems so much more real when we can see it in other people’s eyes.