It's time to break some old habits and create some new ones...the good kind! Tony covers Richard Jerome's article "Yes, You Can Kick That Bad Habit!" Are you "addicted" to your phone? Have you ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook thinking "just 3 more seconds and I'll exit," again and again and again? And how many days does it truly take to create a new habit (hint, it's not 21 days!)? Jerome covers how our habits evolved, how to "hack" the habit center of the brain, and why "white-knuckling" addiction doesn't work. 


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This episode of The Virtual Couch is sponsored by With the continuing “sheltering” rules that are spreading across the country PLEASE do not think that you can’t continue or begin therapy now. can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your own mental health a priority, offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.


Tony's new best selling book "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" is now available on Kindle.


Tony Overbay, is the co-author of "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" now available on Amazon The book debuted in the number 1 spot in the Sexual Health Recovery category and remains there as the time of this record. The book has received numerous positive reviews from professionals in the mental health and recovery fields.


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Transcript of Episode:

Hey, coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch, we are going to talk about Breaking Bad habits. Yes, you can break that habit from your cell phone to any kind of destructive habits. We're going to talk about what creates the habit, what the habit cycle is all about, and how you change the reward system and any habit. And you can kind of one of the kids say these days, hack that entire habit system. That and more coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch.

Welcome to episode two hundred and twenty, The Virtual Couch, I am your host, Tony Over became a licensed marriage and family therapist. Certified Mind will have a coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of 4, ultra marathon runner and creator of the Path Back and Online Pornography Recovery Program that is helping people like you reclaim their lives from the harmful effects of pornography. If you or anyone that you know is trying to put pornography behind you once and for all, and trust me, it can be done in a strength based, hopefully become the person you always wanted to be way then please head a path back recovery dotcom. And there you will find a short ebook that describes five common mistakes that people make when trying to overcome pornography once and for all. Again, that's path back recovery dotcom and find exciting things continue. Tony over The website has been updated. So I would love if you would head over there, my free parenting program, parenting positively, even in the not so positive of times, is available there for free and it will continue to be there for free. So please go and find out how to be a better parent, even as you are continuing to for many children, place your kids around you even more. Bless their little hearts.

This is a free parenting program that teaches you how to parent better. So again, path back path payback, recovery outcome is a wonderful place to go. That is the pornography recovery website. But head over to Tony Overbay Dotcom. There you will find the Parenting the Free Parenting Workshop Parenting Program. And I would highly encourage you to sign up for my newsletter, because I've been alluding to this. It is now being filmed and that is a magnetic marriage program where we are going to talk about how to have a more magnetic marriage. So go to Tony over may not come. You'll be one of the first people to find out when that program is unveiled. And you can always head over to Instagram. Lots of heading over to Instagram. Find me at Virtual Couch and also on Facebook, Tony Overbay, licensed marriage and family therapist. So there is all of the business, so to speak. So let's get to today's podcast. Today is one of those that I'm very excited about. I think I admittedly am excited about everything, but I get to record. I still love the fact that I get to record a podcast. I love all the feedback.

And on that note, send all your feedback to through the contact form on my website, Tony, over Or you can just skip that altogether and send it to contact with Tony, if you have show ideas, if you have questions, if you want to be a guest on the virtual couch, if you want me to come speak anywhere, any of those things, then send send me an email. I would love to hear from you. So today's topic this is coming from a website called Real Simple Dotcom. And my wife, who I love, bless her heart, she sends me things that she thinks that I would love to podcast about. And she's she's always spot on. And this is one about habits. And I love the way the brain works. I love the concept of how habits are formed. And equally as challenging is how we can break bad habits and how we can create new habits. So today has a little bit of all of that in there. I even get the debunker pop psychology myth that I love, too, about how long it takes to create a new habit. And one more plug, because I'm sitting here continuing to look up at a camera, please head over to the virtual couch YouTube channel and getting more subscribers there. That's a lot of fun as well. And you can see this podcast in video form. So let's get to this.

So I'm going to be referring to this article called Yes, You Can Kick That Bad Habit, and that is from an author named Richard Jerome. And here's what I love. I was already drawn in by the title, Yes, you can kick that bad habit, but right underneath that, he says, and don't even think about white knuckling it here, science based strategies to help you abandon your vices. And as a person who has worked with when I was promoting my book, he's a porn addict. Now, what an expert and a former addict. Answer your questions, which is still in there on the Sexual Health and recovery best seller list on Amazon. And I'm grateful for that. And it is if I haven't talked about the book in a while. But if you are struggling with the trauma or addiction or that is present in your relationship or if you're a therapist who works with that, I highly recommend the book. It's there in paperback. It's also there and Kindle format. But we talk so much about co-author Joshua Shay and I talk about addiction and we talk about it so much. And one of the biggest just things that does not work is this concept of white knuckling through an addiction and what is white knuckling. It is just hanging on to dear life of sobriety so that your knuckles turn white and that that will work for some people at some times.

But in the grand scheme of things, the long run, that is not an effective option. So Richard Jerome says, don't even think about white knuckling it. Here is some science based strategies to help you abandon your vices. So he says, for years I was smugly self-righteous about smartphones. That's what and again, I love that we jump right in here because the smartphone holy cow, talk about an old man, me being an old man and and saying the kids these days and their phones and. Recognizing that, you know, my teenagers have grown up with a phone as part of their life as long as they can remember, and this is the part where even in my parenting program, I talk about how when I grew up, if my dad was talking about records, I was talking CDs. So we were kind of on the same page. But I did not grow up with a smartphone I barely grew up with. I mean, I can remember a very ginormous mobile phone when I was in my 20s. I think I remember cell phones when I first entered the computer industry and and they were not very small devices that did not do very many things. I remember eating my first, OK, this is not supposed to be a trip down memory lane, but I remember getting my first texting plan where I think I had to text a month and I thought, I'll never use this, you know, a couple hundred texts in a day, you know, challenge me.

And so he says I was smugly self-righteous about smartphones rolling my eyes and all those people clutching their devices like rosaries are floating along sidewalks as if in a trance, transfixed by their virtual worlds. Oblivious to the real one, he said big tech could hook them. Checking for posts and lights and swipes and breaking news have become unquenchable habit. And he said, pity the fools. That would never happen to that was that would never happen to somebody as savvy, as self-aware as the author Richard Jarome. But then he says, oh no. On November 9th, 2016, he launched a self-imposed news blackout designed to last for at least four years. First of all, Richard, bless your heart for believing that you could just immediately jump in with a four year technology bad news blackout. So then he said mid twenty seventeen came around all of the things that had to do with Russian interference in the investing and the elections. And he said like that I was drawn in again, devouring cable TV analysis, speculation following his favorite pundits on Twitter. His go to platform said sometimes he would check his news feed every few minutes and didn't want to miss the slightest twist or turnour incisive comment. And he said it really did feel like this magnetic pull.

And I like that description because I think often I don't know if you've had this experience, whether yourself or witnessing those around you, where as soon as you have a moment when you're in line or you're just sitting there and you all of a sudden are aware of your environment, if you then immediately kind of check your phone, if you open your phone, I have watched people literally it's almost like reflexively they open up Instagram and then it's almost like then they get off of Instagram because they realize. But then they realize, oh, wait, I was just on Instagram. I don't know what I even saw on Instagram, so I better go back on there and then you continue to scroll and scroll and and he said one night his wife was talking to him and he said, I can't tell you what she was saying, because in between those those those ones he said, I kept glancing down at my palm and scrolling and she said, Are you even listening to me? And then the gut punch, you become one of those phone people. So have you become one of those phone people? I know that there at times I have become one of those phone people. And it's funny, there's so much psychology here that goes on. The more the more busy that I get. And I don't even really like that word.

But the more emails I get, the more feedback I get, the more clients I see, the more writing projects I have do, the more podcasts I want to do, the more programs I want to do, the more the more the more that I have found myself not having time for social media. And so, again, my my job here is to be vulnerable and authentic and raw and open and all of these things. Right. So I find myself at times almost feeling this air of self righteousness. I have not checked Instagram for two days and no one gives me an award, nobody gives me a prize. And if anything, I probably make those people around me feel worse because they they are maybe they are checking Instagram quite a bit or quite often. And so I recognize that, that the busier I get, the less I am on social media, the more I feel like I have done something right. But I know that if I did not have all of these other things that were going on, there's a good chance I would be right back there scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or are looking at all these various things that are just so enticing in the palm of my hand in full retina display, you know, however many colors that is just waiting for me to scroll and try to find something interesting.

Richard Jarome said she was right, as always, after a largely absent abstemious life, very fancy word, I'd gone to the dark side and developed a bad habit. Not terrible in the moral scheme, but not good, actually. Bad habits, which he says is a catch all for repetitive activities to distract, disgust, annoy or at worst damage. Oneself or others are pretty universal. Some are social or psychological habits, such as chronic lateness or interrupting or procrastination. And he said, Who among us hasn't avoided a tedious task with a nap, a snack or a surfing cat video? I'm a big fan of dog videos myself, but I realize there are those cat videos out there as well. But he says many bad habits are physical. Nail biting, hair pulling, cheek chewing, knuckle cracking, gum snapping, legs shaking, pin clicking and more seriously, overeating, drinking, drugging, cutting and self-harm. And in the age of covid-19, many of us were stunned to realize how often we touch our faces. An innocuous habit. The virus made a potentially lethal and in that paragraph alone is some gold there that when we talk about habits, that this catch all for repetitive activities, bad habits in particular, that he jumps right in there and says, who hasn't avoided the tedious task with a nap, snack or surfing cat video?

So now we welcome welcome to the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Time in the podcast. And again, my modality of choice. If you go on my website or search through any Tony Overbay podcast and acceptance and commitment therapy, you'll find a lot of a lot of podcasts where I like to talk about this.

And so when we when we are bored or when we aren't engaged in something that really brings us value or relies or turns to one of our own values, there is a concept called experiential avoidance, and that is that proverbial kicking the can down the road. I'll do it later so I might want to watch a few dog videos or I might want to take a quick nap or any of these things that then puts off a task. And and what we're going to learn here is we kind of dig deeper into habits, is that the more that you turn to that experiential avoidance, that taking a nap, that trying to find something else to do before you do the next thing that you're supposed to do, even that becomes a habitual pattern. And so we have to have awareness and kind of break out of that experiential avoidance. And so he says certainly serious physical addictions require therapy, which I appreciate that rehab, even expert treatment. But he said, of course, there are these do it yourself hacks and fixes to help us break garden variety habits or is kind of asking the question, what are those?

Most of the relatively few researchers in the field agree it's complicated. The reasons we develop habitual behaviors are as varied and unique as fingerprints. People tend to oversimplify habits, but the more you study them, the more complex they are. And that is so true. And I have found that even in my recovery work in the world of pornography, compulsive sexual behavior, if and if you haven't listened to anything I've done there, I can understand that if that isn't necessarily your base of choice, but the concepts are universal and in in let me kind of do I wasn't going to go on this bit of a tangent, but in that world of pornography and compulsive sexual behavior, I started working with men. I was working at this nonprofit and I'm getting guys in there and I'm doing the same thing where I'm saying, hey, let's identify your triggers. You find out one of the main triggers with any kind, any kind of negative behavior, especially in the world of pornography or compulsive sexual behavior, is I call them crimes of opportunity. It's boredom and nobody's around. And so when there's a trigger, then your brain says, I can do the thing I can I can look at pornography. I can I could eat. I could do some some compulsive behavior. So there's the trigger that you have that thought then you have an action. And so I was working very much in the right. If we can't eliminate a trigger, that's great. If somebody somebody's been trigger is opportunity, then and they have a couple of hours free every morning after they drop the kids off and maybe their wife's at work, then can we eliminate that trigger? Can you go into the office early? Can you go study at the library? Can you use that time to exercise? And if for some reason the person can't necessarily adjust that trigger, then when they have the thought you want to put distance between thought and action.

And so you can do that one of two ways. The first is behavioral. So you can do something behavioral, run outside, call a friend, do some push ups, any of those kind of things. Right. Your grandma, you know, text a friend and true story. When I was doing work early with pornography, compulsive sexual behavior, and I was working with a fair amount of teenagers, I used to think I was pretty clever and I wanted them to text me a picture of the grossest thing that was in their fridge. And I always had this desire, this dream that I would have this secret place. You could click on my Web page and find a picture of all the gross things that someone had in their fridge. And I never followed through on that. But I had I remember the best with some twenty year old bullion cubes, although, quite frankly, a twenty year old boy cube was probably fine. And although I don't endorse eating a twenty year old boy on Cube, if they're bouillon cube experts that are listening to the virtual couch. But very, very I had a lot of moldy cheeses.

I think that was a favorite, but. Breaking that putting distance between that thought and action was the real key, and that's where the concept of mindfulness eventually rules the day of being able to be aware of your thought and put that space in there, that distance between thought and action. But so the big kind of the big thing to do was work in that world of behavior modification, things that you could do. But eventually you may be in this position where you can't go out and climb the fire escape or so you really wanted to work on the mental part of that. The you know, working on the the changing your relationship with thoughts is what what you need to do. So back to the article. The reason I went on that tangent is, is then the author, Richard Drome, says, people, the reasons we develop habits and behaviors are as varied and unique as fingerprints. So you could have the the habitual pattern. And it's not as simple as just saying, hey, just do push ups or just write a letter or just change your relationship with your thoughts, because what led up to those triggers are pretty unique to each individual, because that goes into all of one's nature and nurture and DNA and birth order in their abandonment stories and rejection and how much they had had kind of given into their addiction over the years, how much they had tried to stop. Was there an element of shame that was involved?

So I really like that. Where he says varied and unique as fingerprints. He quotes Fred Binzel, who is an M.D. and a Ph.D., Huntington, New York psychologist who specializes in body focused, repetitive behaviors such as nail or cheek biting or hair or skin pulling, among others, who says people tend to oversimplify habits. But the more you study them, the more complex they are. Treating these habits takes a lot of detective work, he said. We take a very comprehensive approach and do a careful behavioral analysis to determine what all the person's inputs are. And I like this concept of what their inputs are environmental, sensory, cognitive and emotional. So you've got all of those components that can go into any habit. Again, we're not just talking about one of these, you know, compulsive or body focused, repetitive behaviors or we're not even talking about a compulsive sexual behavior like turning to pornography as a coping mechanism. So Richard Drome says habits have a powerful, powerful evolutionary and neurological underpinnings and that they are essential for human survival. So here's where things get interesting. So that's one reason bad habits which operate under the same systems as good or useful ones are so hard to kick because our whole lives are suffused by habits. He also quotes Russell Poldrack, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, who says, Think about everything you do when you get up in the morning. You're not at each moment thinking things like now I've got to brush my teeth. Now I've got to put grounds into the coffee maker. He says you do it automatically.

If we didn't have habits, we'd be completely overtaken by this need to make decisions at every point. And so habits run constantly in the background. Indespensible, you had unobtrusive as Muzak, which is that music that plays when you're in the elevator. So think about that. If our brain is designed to create these habit cycles. And in the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and I talked about this actually this was on a short YouTube video. I believe that I then I made a few weeks ago. But think of the way the brain works with habits. The brain is designed to want to live forever. That is its goal. And for some reason, the brain believes it is operating from this finite amount of energy or power. So your brain wants to do all it can to go into a resting state or it wants to use as little electrical activity as possible. Thus comes the work of habits. So when you do some repetitive task or some repetitive thought or behavior, then that over time your brain says, hey, if I put this in this little part of my brain called the basal ganglia the habit center, then I don't have to burn as many mental calories to do this task. So whether it's backing out of the driveway, whether it's brushing your teeth, whether it's tying your shoes. So when your brain says we do this a lot, then I'm going to put that into the habit center. And so then whenever these triggers, I wake up in the morning, I see shoes. My brain knows what they do.

We're going to we're tying these bad boys. And so it takes less electrical activity to do that out of this habit, this basal ganglia of the brain. So our our brains are designed to find patterns and in these create these habits the same visual patterns. And again, what can be tricky is so now you can see there can be a good habit. So I am going to tie my shoes. I'm going to brush my teeth. I know at the end of the evening when I brush my teeth, throw a little floss in there, which took me forever to create a habit with that and then do some mouthwash, that that's a habit that I don't even really have to think about. And I just I have to have that feeling in my mouth before I go to bed. You know, my brain is throwing all kinds of signals that we must. Do this, there have been nights actually last night. My wife and I went on a late night run and I was I was pretty exhausted and I was eating a snack or two. I'm in bed. Probably not a good habit to do. And I thought, you know what? One night I'm just going to go to sleep. I'm not going to get from brushing my teeth and I'm so tired. But man, as I'm starting to to fall asleep, my brain says, you know, brush your teeth, you need that mouthwash feel and you can't go to bed. So you have that mouthwash feel and get up, go brush your teeth. And I got up and brush my teeth and lived happily ever after.

So though so I ran again, wants to find patterns of behavior and file these in that basal ganglia, that habit. So he says the reason habits evolved is because our conscious attentional bandwidth is very narrow. And that's a that's a concept that I haven't really thought of or worked with much where, you know, if we had to make all of these decisions constantly, do I take my shoes, my shoes, do I get in the car and how do I drive this car again? Our our brains would be overwhelmed. That's is too much data. And back to that book, Atomic, not atomic habits. That's one of them being right now, but the power of habit. Charles Duhigg, he has a chapter in there where he does talk about some some data, some research that shows how we can hit a I like to think of it as our brain sponge can be full because we've made so many decisions that day. So, you know, we we have to almost look at this like our brains are saying enough. I've made enough decisions. So, you know, it wants to put as many things into this habit center as possible. So, again, that quote he says, the reason habits evolve is because our conscious attentional bandwidth is very narrow, says psychologist Elliot Bergman, Ph.D., the director of the University of Oregon Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab. He said, We essentially developed a separate brain system that can offload easily repetitive tasks and it frees up space for stuff that's really hard.

What a great quote. So how exactly does a habit form good or bad? The magical ingredients are a cue, some environmental or psychological triggers, then a behavior and a reward, Burkeman explains. The reward, he adds, is the glue that holds the process together. Think of learning to drive. And he says it's actually quite hard how far to turn the wheel, what to do with your feet. But very quickly, you learn there are cues like a green light. You move your foot to the gas pedal and you press it. Just so the reward is that the car moves forward as you want it to go before long. You don't have to think about any of that. But bad habits piggyback on that same cue behavior reward cycle. So he goes on to say that neurologically habits operate through the brain's reward based learning system, which relies on the release of dopamine.

I talk about dopamine so often on this podcast because as a card carrying member of the 8D or more specifically ADHD inattentive type club card carrying member of that club, the my brain wants more dopamine. I mean, it's doesn't get enough dopamine. So when when I become hyper focused on something the brain's like, there we go, there's that dopamine. I mean, we want this dopamine through this reward center of the brain. So he says dopamine. This neurotransmitter which conveys chemical information between neurons, plays a key role in crucial bodily activities, from learning and emotion to kidney function, heart rate and sleep. So one really important thing dopamine does is it signals when the world turns out better than you expected it to be. What a what an amazing phrase to talk about what dopamine does the reward center of the brain that let me read that again. One really important thing dopamine does is it signals when the world turns out better than you expected it to be. That's according to Poldrack. So that is if you try a new activity that works surprisingly well, you get a little shot of dopamine. And that in turn strengthens the connections between neurons involved in choosing that action. So the next time you're in that same situation, you're more likely to do that same thing. In a way, dopamine helps cement neurological processes that create habits. So dopamine, he adds, responds to novelty. And this is what I've actually learned in this book, The Atomic Habits, which has been pretty fascinating.

It rewards, it responds novelty response. And that is why it's easily triggered by many habits we consider bad. So today, our reward based learning systems are under constant assault by stimuli carefully designed to make us crave more, whether it's craving a food beverage or a social media feed. So he said that our brains weren't adapted to the level of stimulation that we get from all sorts of things in the modern world, Polder Poldrack says. Certainly the drugs people become addicted to or foods engineered to be highly palatable or technological devices that give us so much novel information are all effective at driving the development of habit. So think about that concept alone, that dopamine responds to novelty. So every time that you grab your phone, what are you doing? You're responding to this novelty or this? There could be new information there, and so every time that's why the scroll based system is so effective, because I've been victim to this so many times, if I'm just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, it is this little bit of your brain is throwing a tiny bit. I don't mean like what could be next. What could be next. What could be next. And so you can see that the more you do that, the more you're just strengthening this dopamine reward based system. So knowing how entrenched bad habits are, the author Richard Drome says what's the best way to overcome them? The time honored prescription is to buck up and exercise some self-control. There's that white knuckling approach again, that is not the way to effectively overcome habits, he says, hooked on nachos or marbles to simply stop.

But it rarely works because habit formation is such a powerful system that it's easier to work within it rather than to override it, according to Burkeman. White knuckling it, trying not to do something is very hard, he said. Indeed, and I love this. I just did an episode on this as well, or a YouTube video on this, a very short YouTube video on this. Have you ever tried to not think of a person, a place or an object? This is that try not to think of the white polar bear wearing a tutu, playing a saxophone. I mean, I would imagine you probably thought about that at this point. So when you when you tell yourself, don't think of something, this is why I thought suppression doesn't work. Your own brain has that psychological reactance, that instant negative reaction of being told what to do. So when you tell yourself, don't think about something or don't do something or don't crave something or, you know, don't turn to some advice, your brain has reactance. It says, I can do whatever the heck I want. So so I love that. Bergman said that we have to work within the system, not try to override the system. So if you he says the same applies to habits. There's this phenomenon known as Be a Behavioral Rebound. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Appetite, for instance, found that participants who attempted to suppress thoughts about eating chocolate turned out to consume significantly more chocolate than those who didn't.

So if I'm trying not to touch my face, I can do that as long as I'm thinking, all right, don't touch your face. But then all of a sudden he says, I'm going to try to work on a report. And as soon as I'm not thinking about it, the habits kick in and I'm touching my face. Maybe a lot of us have experienced that during covid-19. So he said that's why it makes more sense. Here's the key. This is so good. Why it makes more sense to focus on doing new things rather than concentrating on not doing the old things. And that is so key is that instead of trying to stop something, take action and start something new. Fill your pocket with the sugarless gum instead of cigarettes or reach for a stick instead of a smoke, toss the beer from your fridge and drink water or seltzer. Instead, Pencils devised a list of mostly tactile alternative activities for his patients dealing with body focused, repetitive behaviors. It also helps eliminate objects or routines that QR habit, says Burkeman. And that could be something as simple as tossing all the ashtrays in your home or steering clear of your favorite tavern. And he says, Be patient, though. And this is the key. Here comes the I love this. I've done multiple episodes where I mentioned this next fact, he said Be patient. A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it took an average of almost want to say right now.

How many days does it take to break a habit? I want you to think about that and how many of you right now said takes three weeks, takes 21 days, because that people tell me that all the time. And I remember hearing that. And that's the pop psychology. If you go look that up, I believe the I want to say that it was a plastic surgeon. I think it was Michael or Maxwell Moss, and it was in one of the World Wars, one or two. A plastic surgeon that accompany the troops did wrote a write up that said that people that were missing limbs, that it took them about three weeks to finally stop feeling this phantom pain are phantom of an arm or a leg that was no longer there. So he wrote and took about three weeks. And so people jumped on that motivational speakers, psychologist, and they said, OK, that must mean that the brain, after three weeks, can form these new neural pathways. And people have run with that for 50, 60, 70 years now. And so I have people all the time that say I just ran for three weeks and I don't like it. So therefore, I that habit won't work for me. But here we go. A study again, a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it took an average of sixty six days and two hundred and fifty four days and the longest case to replace an old habit with a new one.

So what he means by sixty six days on average, two hundred and fifty four days in the longest case is it depends on the habit. So it's going to be a lot easier to create habits on certain things than it is on others. But in a nutshell. Sixty six days. That's that's two months and a few days. Two months and change. So if you aren't enjoying running after three weeks or four weeks or six weeks, it's OK. Hang in there. It's still it can it can still become this habitual pattern or something that you will eventually like or return to. So the. Old bad habit is not going to go go away, Poldrack says, it's always going to be there kind of bubbling in the background, ready to come back and compete with the new one. He said. It takes eternal vigilance and I don't want that to sound overwhelming. What that means is that when you create these new neural pathways in your brain miles away, these new habits and the habit center in this basal ganglia that and I and I talk to addicts about this. The best example I think about is somebody that had been sober for 15 years from alcohol and that one of his cues was whenever he had Mexican food, he still longed for a beer. So the brain would yell, you know, whenever you would get Mexican food, the brain would say, hey, remember the whole beer thing?

And so he was aware of it. And this is why he didn't say, man, stop thinking that. He would say, I see you, rain. I hear you. Yeah, I used to like that. Right. Anyway, I'm now turning to my Diet Coke with my Mexican food, and that had become quite a habit as well. Matter of fact, that had become a more that that voice was yelling even louder. But though the old habit was still sitting there going, remember me? And you're going to say, I remember you. I do. That's it. Acknowledgement. Make room for that thought and made it expand. Expansion is what they call it, and acceptance and commitment therapy. And then turn back to the new habit or the creating those new neural pathways. So this sets the stage. Actually, I skipped a part here. There's some really good stuff here. So yeah. So most common habits, most common bad habits are fueled by stress, providing some kind of momentary relief. This is that experiential avoidance. So one obvious strategy is to eliminate or relieve specific stressors that cue us to light up or non our cuticles or refresh our browser's. He said start with three, stand by. Poldrack suggest getting more sleep, exercising regularly, doing things that help center and relax. You like practicing yoga and meditation, he says. And here we go. I love this. I have episodes on this as well. Mindfulness is at the core of treatment of a treatment developed by Judson Brewer, MD PhD, a Brown University psychiatrist and neuroscientist.

So first, Brewer takes his patients on a deep dive into their habits. He says. I call it hacking the reward based learning system. If you come to him about biting your nails, we map out what triggers the nail biting, stress, boredom, whatever. Then we really look at a reward. What am I getting from biting my nails? Am I controlling something? The next step is really exploring how rewarding that behavior is in an experiential way. What does it feel like inside my body when I'm doing it? And that might actually let me see that it actually doesn't feel good. I feel out of control, my nails look crappy and then they start to become disenchanted with that behavior. And this sets the stage for I really appreciated what Brewer says here. He calls it the bigger, better offer. In essence, the act of awareness of looking inward. You bring an attitude of curiosity that's more rewarding than the urge or craving, he explains. So we have an urge to bite your nails. You actually get curious about what that urge feels like. Then you can dive into the emotions and the sensations and notice them from moment to moment. People learn that they can let go of those things and get more in control by actually being with the emotion in the sensation rather than trying to do something to change them. Man, if you can hit the back button fifteen, thirty seconds a minute and listen to that part again, that that's really the cue are the key of what mindfulness is.

It's not trying to clear your mind of thought. It's trying to learn how to be in that moment and recognize the thought. Be aware of the thought. You can pay attention to the thought. What are the sensations I'm feeling as I feel triggered to do this behavior and being able to say, OK, what are those feelings? I feeling a little bit anxious or I'm feeling a little bit sad or feel a little bit down. And where do I feel that I feel my chest or do I feel in my gut, you know, do I feel stressed? I haven't put my shoulders. I can I can kind of rub my own shoulders there and OK, because eventually that that siren song of temptation will pass, you know, that those those feelings. And then if you especially if you turn to a healthier habit, a healthier reward, then that becomes the new habit. So so the author inadvertently says I'm more or less follow Breuer's basic principles on my own. When my wife verbally snapped the media attention, I took a deep look into my Twitter use and I realized that left me feeling pretty miserable, depressed and sometimes angry to the point of trembling, he said. For all its positives, I've begun to see the platform as a toxic crucible of rage, intolerance and unrestrained ID, he said. I deleted my account experience, an immediate sense of calm and then felt like a moron for getting myself hooked.

But he said, perhaps I should have given myself a pass. The deep biological reasons why habits are hard to break should absolve people of some of the guilt. I like that. I hope that you've stuck with me this long, Poldrack says. I worry that you see so many articles like Ten Simple Ways to break a Habit, and people think, Well, I tried that and I'm still biting my nails. And he says, And I suck. It's not your fault. It's just an abundantly hard thing to do, especially some of the habits around these evolutionary unprecedented stimuli like highly palatable foods and technology. In some ways, our brains are. Outmatched by the modern world, so if you can't break yourself of one of those habits very easily or quickly, please do not beat yourself up. And that is, again, we're back in my world of I've never seen shame be the to the cure for any breaking a habit for overcoming situations in one's life. And again, you know, guilt is the man. I shouldn't do that. Shame is that because you're a horrible piece of crime and you'll never get over this and everybody is going to find out and, you know, got to get rid of the shame, you know, recognize the habit, recognize the pattern. And if it's something that you don't want to do anymore, then let's just bring a little more awareness to it.

Meanwhile, try to get your sleep, try to get some exercise, try to do a daily practice of mindfulness, a little bit of it through the nose, out through the mouth, breathing, because what does that do? It lowers the heart rate. It gets rid of some of that fight or flight response, that adrenaline, which leads to the production of cortisol, which goes in there and shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. So what mindfulness is truly doing is teaching you how to lower that heart rate, to not chase those thoughts that kind of can lead to to feeling a bit out of control and being able to be aware of your environment. OK, what are those feelings of feeling? What are those sensations? And that is really the key to really getting to the bottom of this or overcoming this. I had referenced earlier these 10 substitutes for body focused habits. So I thought that's at the end of this article. I love no one brusher massage your dog or cat. No. To pull out threads from a piece of loosely woven muslin, cloth or cheesecloth. Three Learn how to knit, crochet or embroider. And some clients have had some amazing success in crocheting or knitting, practice or origami. Play with Silly Putty or therapy, which comes in at different levels of firmness. Play a musical instrument. Seven Squeeze a spring-loaded hand exerciser. I have these in all of my cars. That is something I like to do while I'm driving. Talk about a stress reliever and then maybe to build some forearm muscles or that sort of thing. Maybe I was a big Popeye fan as a kid. No make or buy jewelry such as bracelets or necklaces with beads and objects have a lot of texture that are very tactile. Number nine, koosh balls or other feathery rubbery toys or types of toys close by ten. I like this one. Handle a piece of velvet or some other textured fabric.

I've never done that one. I have my fidget cubes, I have my spinners, I have those sort of things in my office. Those really do help as well. So what have we learned today? Hopefully we've learned a little bit more about how you can kick that bad habit, how that habit cycle works, that there's there's a trigger, there's a thought and action and really trying to put distance between thought and action is the key. One of the first ways that you can do that is putting up behavioral intervention in there. But eventually it's learning how to sit with those thoughts and emotions, recognize them. Thank your brain for bringing those to your attention and then just turning towards some new maybe a little bit better, a healthier of a reward. So learning to work within that system, working within that habit system, not trying to fight it, and also that it can take a little bit of time to create a new habit to break through and create this new neural pathway. And that's perfectly OK. You're human. It's going to take some time. So, yes, you can kick that bad habit. And I would love to hear how this works for you. Feel free to send me an email contact that and let me know let me know some of the success stories that you've had if you've been able to kick a bad habit in your life. And what were the things that worked for you? And I would love to maybe feature that on a future episode of the virtual couch. All right.

Taking us away is, as always, the wonderful the talented Aurora Florence with her song. It's wonderful. Have a wonderful day yourself. And I will see you next time.

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