Why are habits hard to break?
I once heard that changing a habit takes 90 days. This is why many drug and alcohol treatment centers recommend 90 days of inpatient treatment, and many 12 step fellowships suggest you go to 90 meetings in the first 90 days you are sober. By nature, we are creatures of habit. The majority of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are a result of habit. So it takes time to break a habit once you have it, especially if you have been doing the same thing for years.
Why are habits hard to break? Physical reasons
There is an actual physical reason that habits are hard to break. When we do the same things over and over, our brain adapts. Neural patterns are formed. These neural patterns created by habit can be changed or altered. But when a stimulus from the old days returns, the dormant pattern can reassert itself. The brain retains these cues, even after the pattern changes, and old stimuli can trigger old behavior.
Why are habits hard to break? Social reasons
Habits are hard to break for social reasons as well. If whatever they are doing is seen as socially acceptable among their peers, they are more likely to continue doing it. When a behavior is socially accepted, or even considered desirable, people tend to reconcile the fact that it’s bad for them with the idea that “everybody’s doing it.” This is the reason that many drug and alcohol treatment centers suggest that the people who are new to sobriety change their social circle. Hanging out with people who do not drink or use drugs can be a big factor in determining whether or not a person stays sober in the long term.
Social and physical environments play large roles in fueling poor habits, but they also play a part in creating good habits. If you perceive that your friends are sitting on the beach all day, taking several smoke breaks for work, or drinking every night, you are more likely to do that too. Often, in early sobriety they tell newcomers to “stick with the winners.” This means to spend time with people who are doing the right thing and have healthy habits. This way, you will tend to create healthy habits for yourself. The good news is that healthy habits are hard to break too, so once you’ve created them, it’s easier to stick with it.
Why are habits hard to break? Beware of stress
Studies have shown that habits are hard to break especially when we are stressed out. Stress can weaken our control over memory and behavior, so that those automatic, habitual responses from the past become more powerful. We fall back into bad habits, even if it’s been a while since we’ve indulged. This is why it is so important to keep stress levels as low as possible when you are first attempting to break a habit. Meditation and plenty of rest can help de-stress you while you are attempting to break a habit.