Breaking Bad Habits: New Research Explores Why It’s so Difficult

By , Category : General Health

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Breaking Bad HabitsEverybody’s got a bad habit that they wish they could break. You know what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s a sweet tooth, a weekly Netflix binge-watch, or chowing down on an entire bag of tortilla chips all by yourself…

But why is your bad habit so tough to break? Whatever happened to mind over matter? Well, it turns out that inner strength may only be a small part of the equation. When it comes to breaking habits, your mind may be working against you.

New Research Shows Why Bad Habits Are Hard-to-Break

Now, if your New Year’s resolution was to kick one of these habits, you might be finding it far more difficult than you had originally anticipated. For most people, eliminating a bad habit is not easy—and I speak from experience. I pride myself on having a decent amount of self-control; admittedly, I’m challenged when I’m confronted with tortilla chips and salsa. So in order to conquer my bad habits, I follow a simple three-step strategy—and I’m confident it will work for you, too. Keep reading.


New research out of Duke University is showing that habits leave a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain, making it very difficult to avoid giving in to cravings.

The drive for these cravings, which “primes” you for consumption, is found in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. There are two main pathways in the basal ganglia that carry opposing messages; one tells you to stop and the other says go.

Researchers learned that the pathways are more active in mice with habits; however, the “go” pathway turns on before the “stop” pathway. In mice that don’t develop habits, the “stop” pathway activates prior to the “go.” In fact, the changes were so long-lasting and obvious in the habit-forming mice that they could easily identify them by looking at small brain samples.

So this difference may explain why my wife can eat a handful of nachos and salsa and I’ll eat the whole bag, or why you’re having such a hard time giving up your own bad habits.

Three Simple Ways to Break Bad Habits

Now, I’m not saying that you’re hopeless in the fight against your unhealthy habits; rather, I’m simply saying that there’s a reason why they are so hard to break. Here are some ways to help you ignore your brain when it’s telling you to “go.”

1. Control your environment: Yes, I love tortillas and salsa and eat too much of them when they’re around. The thing is, I’m rarely around them. You ultimately control your exposure to triggers, so avoid them when possible.

2. Keep your mind active: Knitting, coloring, crocheting or other creative activities can be effective in keeping your hands and mind busy. If both those things are tied up, it’s harder to have—and submit—to a craving.

3. Find something engaging to do: When you experience a craving, find something else to do. It could be getting out of the house for a walk, calling a friend, or doing your taxes.

Source for Today’s Article:
Duke University, “Why Are Habits So Hard to Break?” January 21, 2016;

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Adrian Newman, B.A.

About the Author, Browse Adrian's Articles

Adrian has been working in the information publishing world since 1997. But when it comes to health information, he’s a self-admitted late bloomer. A couch potato since pre-school, Adrian was raised on TV, video games and a lifestyle that led to childhood obesity that followed him well into adulthood. But when he hit his forties, he decided enough was enough. He had a family to take care of and his days of overeating, under-exercising and inactivity were going to lead... Read Full Bio »