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Habits: The Neuro-emotional Mechanics of Behavioral Modification

To be brutally honest with oneself is to acknowledge that their current state of existence is something they are no longer willing to tolerate. This may sound slightly intense to some. It contains the weight of a suicide threat, and in the psychological and emotional sense, it is.

I am not a psychologist, behaviorist, or neurobiologist. I am not leaning on my professional background or education in the dissemination of my knowledge. I am no expert, but I know a great deal about changing behaviors permanently. I am nothing special. I am just a Dude who once had a healthy drug habit, was once promiscuous, kind of lazy, and relentlessly perused the girl he madly loved, loves. All debilitating behaviors in hindsight. None of these behaviors were easy to end and with the exception of one, they did not take long to do so.

Reflections of the past remind us how far we have come. A year ago I would have spent this Saturday evening drinking, doing drugs, and if successful, having sex. I now find myself more than content with a cup of tea, writing a blog with the occasional, actually frequent pause to listen to my child tell me about something video game related. Sounds boring compared to the alternative but I assure you it the opposite.

I am happy by comparison, the happiest I have been in a very long time. I am not hot shit by any means. I am not rich. I don’t own a ton of cool stuff. I am not dating a super-model and my car is a piece of shit, but it doesn’t matter, because I am happy, healthy, and empowered.

All change occurs within, transformation is a lonely internal job. There was no program, book, or group that created this change for me. There were helpful tools and resources at times but these change occurred in the solicitude of my heart and mind. With tears on my face and pain in my body.

In my opinion, the reason we find change so difficult is simple. We believe we are incapable of it and we fear pain, emotional and physical. Both are inevitable but choice is conscious. So choose well for yourself even when it hurts. Remember you have ultimate free-will. The power of choice can never be underestimated. Even if you believe you can not quit drugs or live without a certain person in your life, believe me, you can. Whatever you want to change about your life is changeable. That is the only truth I suggest clinging to.

The first step is to begin a discipline meditative practice. Meditation is one of the easiest things to do yet people avoid it like the plague. There are many ways to meditate. At its core, meditation is the process of self-awareness. It teaches us essential techniques necessary to change behavior. To detach from the thoughts that loop us back into compulsive self-defeating behaviors. Put simply, Meditation teaches us how to think less and feel more.

The power of emotions can not be underestimated. Gone are the days when you label emotions as either positive or negative. They just are and they just exist. We feel something and label it as sadness, fear, joy, love, etc. There are some emotions we prefer to feel and some we do not. This simple model influences the majority of our decisions. For example, drugs make us feel “good”, when we are feeling “bad” so we do them. Sex makes us feel “connected”, we feel “disconnected” so we have it. These are just simple examples and obviously there is much more to drug use and human sexuality.

We justify behaviors because the alternative is too painful to feel until it is not. We stay in toxic or unfulfilling relationships because the break up hurts too much. Often it is only when the experience hurts worse than the lack of the experience that we change. The painful risk outweighs the emotional benefit. The paradox is that when we feel and release the emotional pain preventing us from ceasing a behavior do we completely free ourselves from it. It is really that simple. We completely loose the desire to repeat behaviors that we know will be painful to end. Hence, the behavior ceases permanently. The paradox is that the pain we avoided feeling to end the behavior, now motivates us to avoid it.

I want you to imagine the potential implications. No more depression or anxiety disorders. No more toxic, self-abusive behaviors. No more suicide or homicide. No more suffering from the embrace of suffering.

I would suggest not disregarding this knowledge. To do so is to disregard your innate ability to heal past trauma and change any behavior you desire to change. This is your power and it wont be found in a medication. It wont be found in a text book. It wont be found in an exercise program or diet. It wont be found in the words of a Clinician or the hands of a Healer. It is in you.

If you were looking for a complex lesson in neurochemistry of psychology, I am sorry to disappoint you. In the end, it comes down to awareness, choice, and an abundance of emotional grit.

Dan McGinley RN BSN

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