This post was written by Simone Wong, the creator of INTENT – a Copenhagen-based lifestyle blog with tips on mindfulness living, minimalism and self-growth.
[David: I’d like to say thank you to Simone for all the great content she puts out on her blog, in addition to taking the time to create this powerful article for the Mufasa Fitness community. You rock!]
(Thank you so much David for letting me contribute to your platform. It’s always empowering to meet like-minded people who also hope to inspire others through practicing mindfulness and living a healthier lifestyle.)
There is One Key to Breaking Bad Habits – and It’s Simpler Than You Think
A huge part of healthy living and wellbeing is getting rid of bad habits. David (in this great blogpost) wrote about how you can replace bad habits with good ones in easy steps.
Habits and routines take up most of our day—they’re what constitute our everyday and tie each day together to form a holistic view of ourselves. Unfortunately, bad habits like smoking and stress-eating almost depend 100% on biological drives of cues and triggers. The cue-act-reward mechanism is built upon the most basic learning processes in our body: positive and negative reinforcement.
Why are comfort foods comforting? Simply because your body learned that having the piece of sugary cake gives you a cheerful dopamine boost and came up with the smart idea of: “Hey, why not have the same thing the next time when you’re unhappy?”
These seemingly reasonable links are created by your body based on the rewards you received, making bad habits even harder to get rid of.
Mindfulness and Habits
As someone with a busy working schedule who doesn’t exercise as often as I wanted, eating became my main focus in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One habit I have successfully got rid of is my binge eating—and this was purely through practicing mindfulness over a long period of mental recovery.
Mindfulness is about being aware of patterns and waves of emotions, and to be on top of our thoughts and actions. Conversely, often with unhealthy habits we feel controlled and dragged around by our triggers, and the action becomes meaningless in itself.
Food is no longer nourishment; cigarettes are no longer horrid smelling tobacco leaves.
But what happens if we step outside of the moment and become curious of what we’re actually doing?
Scientist Judson Brewer in his series of experiments looked at how meditation practices and mindfulness trainings (MT) helps people quit smoking. They found that simply by practicing being mindful and fully aware of the smoking act itself, participants had a much greater chance of quitting than compared to traditional treatments.
How did this work? Participants were asked to smoke when they didn’t want to – and without a trigger, this action basically became meaningless and disgusting to them.
Curiosity Drives Awareness
It might sound simple, but ultimately mindfulness cannot be forced.
It requires the determination to understand ourselves. It’s the curiosity into how our actions are performed, why we’re feeling an emotion, what we’re actually doing to our body. Simply put, the willingness to learn and stay curious about ourselves will fuel our practice of mindfulness.
Next time you’re trying to get rid of a habit, don’t simply think that it’s something harmful you imposed onto yourself. Instead, slice the vicious chain into bite-size pieces. Try and dissect each moment and think of them independently. You might be surprised how you can even reinvent and reclaim the actions.
Comfort foods become delicious food you can enjoy when you want; an occasional glass of wine becomes enjoyable again without the stressful trigger. This is exactly the power of mindfulness and taking control in your actions.
Brewer, J. A., Mallik, S., Babuscio, T. A., Nich, C., Johnson, H. E., Deleone, C. M., … & Carroll, K. M. (2011). Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial. Drug and alcohol dependence, 119(1), 72-80.