Tag Archives: Center for Motivation & Change

What’s the first step of habit change? Going off autopilot!

Posted on August 22, 2017

– 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.”

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3 Reasons ‘Practice Makes Perfect’

Posted on February 3, 2015

Practice Makes Perfect
Josh King, PsyD, Center for Motivation and Change
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“Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple but it IS possible.” ~Charles Duhigg

PracticeOften, the process of making lasting change requires trying new and unfamiliar things. Maybe it’s walking to work a different way so you can avoid a tempting or triggering location. Maybe it’s practicing new coping skills in the face of an old problem. Maybe it’s reaching out to other people when you normally would go it alone.

Deliberately practicing new behavior has three effects: 1) you get better at doing it, which increases the odds that you will be successful at it when it matters, 2) you start to replace the old habits with new ones, and 3) you develop the habit of replacing old habits!

First, remember that when you are trying out something new, it is best to practice that skill when the stakes aren’t too high. You wouldn’t want to shoot your first ever free-throw in the NBA finals! Instead, practice a new skill when the pressure is low, so you can get used to it and fine-tune it in relative comfort. Then, you’ll know just what to do when you really need it later.

The second effect, replacing old habits, is a big one. Recent research has shown Continue reading