Bad habits are never easy to change. These may include addiction to substances, eating too much, spending far too much time on the internet or many other less-than-ideal activities. While it would be nice if good intentions were enough to make clear changes in our lives, this is often not the case. The wonderful news is, there are ways to get our lives back to a much healthier and more fulfilling state. Rewiring your brain is one way to get the job done.
Neurotransmitters have a lot to do with making changes to our brains that, to many, falsely seem to be stuck in a never-changing state of negative behaviors. Medical researchers are working hard on coming up with ways to naturally transform how the cells of the human brain both deliver and move these chemicals.
Natural Feel-Good Chemicals
The brain contains dopamine pathways which release and respond to the neurotransmitter known as dopamine. These pathways are made up of neurons that connect various areas of the brain, releasing and responding to dopamine. This unique neurotransmitter is known as a “feel good” chemical that provides positive feelings when you have completed something that has been striving for. The catch 22 of dopamine is that when you become addicted to an object or action (drugs, working out or maybe technology), over time the link between the action/object becomes stronger and stronger as you enjoy the thrill of the extra “shot” of dopamine.
University of Buffalo research has shown that physical exercise can help to rewire dopamine pathways to help change unwanted behaviors. Researchers have discovered aerobic exercise alters dopamine receptors. This causes the exercise alone to build similar rewards to the unwanted behaviors. This is a sneaky, as well as effective, way to use dopamine to your advantage.
Bye Bye Alcohol and Smoking
A South Florida study has found that physical activities including yoga or going for a jog can help people fight back against the urge to smoke. There is also a Texas University study which has shown that even moderate intensity physical exertion can help those who are having a difficult time cutting back on the alcohol and have better control of their moods. Norway researchers have also found that playing sports or starting up weight training can strongly counteract an addiction to drugs. The nice thing is, there are so many studies about various additions available today. Much of this information is just a simple click away. A quick Google or YouTube search can provide those suffering or the loved ones of those suffering with a massive inventory of ways to help or get help.
Schedules Make All the Difference
Another great way to use the dopamine reward system to your advantage is to create better structure for yourself. So many of us get caught up in doing things last minute or completing our to-do lists as we feel “energized enough” to do it. This is actually part of the problem. We are creatures of habit and the more we build positive habits for ourselves, the better we will feel. This includes how we handle and fight back against addiction. Our brain “rewards” us when we complete any task. This means, something as simple as setting a time to do the dishes or clean out the fridge can help us to stop putting things off while at the same time giving us a reward we can regulate and look forward to.
Researchers say that the combination of a consistent routine and setting goals for ourselves that are simple to complete is a fantastic way to receive those regular dopamine boosts that we crave. Studies show, dopamine naturally releases according to an ultradian cycle. This means, at certain times throughout the day your brain is sending out the feel-good chemical. Researchers say this may explain why we, as humans, eat three times a day, equally spacing out these times. These eating times directly correlate to the natural fluctuations of dopamine in the human body.
Scientist believe adding some structure to your every day, such as working out at the same time each and every day, can help to make you want to take part in healthier activities and behaviors. This is due to the fact that you are working hand in hand with your brain’s dopamine networks, manipulating them to your will.
Checking easy tasks from your to-do list throughout the day is thought to stimulate dopamine release while your brain connects the completion of said goal with the feel-good chemical. These seemingly simple tasks are actually working greatly to our benefit when we use them correctly. This means we can pick and choose what makes us feel good. Of course, this isn’t a 100% solution but it can significantly increase your chances of fighting against addictions and obsessions with doing or completing various destructive behaviors. Setting and accomplishing goals feels really good and in today’s lifestyle, filled with short deadlines and constant communication without much time for taking a breath and slowing down, can make us forget that. This is an old-school way of doing things that has become what many would call “outdated” really shouldn’t have been.
An Ever Changing Path
While rewiring your brain by manipulating the release of dopamine and dopamine “schedule” are both helpful tools the effectively fight in the battle against addiction to a wide range of behaviors, it is not a fix-all solution. The struggle of addiction is real for millions of people in the world, these include addictions ranging from drug use to porn addiction and food consumption (whether eating too much or eating too little to excessive degrees). If addiction were an easy thing to conquer, this article and millions of dollars’ worth of studies wouldn’t exist. Remember to be honest and patient with yourself. Addiction is not something to be taken lightly and keep in mind that it is never shameful or too late to ask for help. Every little bit counts, so don’t give up the good fight.
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