Whether it’s driving a car or negotiating the daily journey to work, we are all creatures of habit. Billions of nerve cells in our brain have, thanks to repetition, memory and learning, wired in patterns of behaviour like grooves on a record.  All good…. except when the automatic behaviour is detrimental and we can no longer exercise choice.

The stress of an exhausting day with a difficult boss, feelings of loneliness, frustration or the need to belong to a social group can seem to be relieved by a few drinks, a bit of the white stuff, or the arms of a stranger.

Whether it’s sugar or self-criticism, bingeing on box sets or booze, we over-indulge to relieve our feelings. The dopamine released in anticipation of the reward helps us feel good, but that feel-good factor is only short lived and leads to let-down and remorse.

The question is, where does conscious choice come in? If you can’t follow through on a desire to stop, but find yourself compulsively shopping even though there’s a gigantic hole in your bank account, you’d do well to think about “Breaking Bad”.

This means rewiring those pathways in your brain, and hooking up the reward centres to more wholesome targets. It means being more self-aware so you can choose your actions even in the grips of the urge to indulge.

A few tips to help you:

  1. Write your goals down daily to re-affirm your intention.
  2. Make yourself accountable to a trustworthy adult who will support you.
  3. Imagine the person you will be when you have Broken Bad as if you are already there.
  4. Remove yourself from sources of temptation, especially in the early days.
  5. Learn your triggers and create healthier ways to reward yourself for Breaking Bad.
  6. Forgive yourself and cultivate kindness, generosity and appreciation, an attitude of gratitude.
  7. Take up habits that bring more presence and choice into your life, like mindfulness.
  8. Take steps to improve your emotion regulation in constructive ways.
  9. Focus on what you want things to be, not what you don’t want.

Even the smallest step towards developing beneficial habits in your life can have a profound short and longterm effect on your wellbeing. Even your genes, what people have hitherto considered as your destiny, are dynamic and respond the the way you think, feel, and act. Your predisposition is not your fate.

The way genes express themselves, how active they are, can be modified by simple lifestyle changes. Whether it’s cutting down on sugar, taking the stairs instead of the lift, eating more naturally colourful fruit and veg, or being generous and appreciative towards yourself and others, wherever you are in your life, you can make changes for the better today.

Perhaps the most fundamental shift is your attitude towards yourself. You are your most precious resource and your body is a necessary and valuable vehicle for your life. Be kind to yourself. Learn to like the person in the mirror, and recognise that you too are “worth it.” Your genes will love you for it!

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