– Carrie Wilkens, Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change
Changing behavior requires self-awareness. Changing a well-worn habit in particular requires that you move it from “automatic” to “conscious” so that you can make other behavioral choices. For example, if you don’t even notice that you are reaching for a cigarette as you get into your car, how are you ever going to decide to resist lighting it up?
Habits are influenced by your environment and are set off by environmental cues, sometimes called triggers. Triggers are the people, situations, locations and emotions associated with any behavior you are trying to change. When it comes to substance use, triggers are the environmental variables that provoke “cravings” or the desire to use or engage in the habit. Neuroscientists have studied the trigger effect in the brain—how an encounter with drug paraphernalia or the smell of a long-frequented pub lights up the part of the brain responsible for emotion and instinct, the “feel good” parts of the brain. As you encounter these cues in your daily life, it’s likely that you are on autopilot and don’t even notice how they are linked to your decision to engage in your habit. Scientists have also found that once these habits are engaged, the brain has a difficult time considering the consequences and risks associated with the behavior. In other words, once you are in your car, smoking the cigarette, it’s not likely that you will have the wherewithal to say “this is really bad for my health, I’m going to throw this cigarette and the rest of the pack away right now.”
Coping Skills Help Make Behavior Change Last
~Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D., Center for Motivation and Change
Making a change in your life is a pretty big deal. If you’ve moved into the action stage of change, we’d first like to first offer you a huge congratulations! This is a bold move, and one that deserves a lot of praise! Next we’d like to offer you some helpful tips to help make this change a little bit easier, and hopefully a lot more permanent!
Learn a few coping skills
You may have heard this term, coping skills, before and you may not really know what it means. Coping skills are things that you can do to help tolerate a difficult time by using constructive and positive strategies. More specifically, coping skills are what you need to tolerate the difficult moments that come along with making a significant change in your life (like giving up an unhealthy habit, learning a healthy behavior, not giving into impulses, etc.).
When we talk about coping skills, we can break them up into two categories, Continue reading