Thinking back just a few short months ago we all made new year’s resolutions. How are you doing with yours? Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to change habits? I'd like to share a little with you about how your brain works and why change can be so difficult.
Everything we do, feel, or think is reflected in circuits of neurons in our brains. Neurons, or brain cells, communicate with each other at a gap, called the synapse. One neuron releases chemicals -neurotransmitters- into the synaptic space, where it is picked up by the receptors of the next neuron. There are billions of neurons in the human brain; each neuron connects with up to 10,000 other neurons, resulting in trillions of synaptic connections. These interconnected neurons become circuits that underlie our habits.
The more we do something the stronger that neuronal circuit becomes that supports that habit. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuroscientist in the 1940s, noted that once a circuit of neurons is formed, when one neuron fires, the others fire as well—strengthening the whole circuit. This has come to be known as Hebbian theory: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Circuits of neurons maintain our habits, and our habits strengthen those neuronal circuits.
Scientists have shown that experience changes the connection between neurons. Everything you do changes your brain. The more you do something, the more likely you are to do it in the future. The habit-driven brain doesn’t distinguish between good and problematic behaviors; it just builds repeated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings into stronger and stronger neuronal circuits.
Here is the great news! Even though we are creatures of habit, we are also creatures of change and adaptation! Our brains are constantly changing in response to our changing environment. Our adaptability is the secret to our success as a species. The challenge is to harness our adaptability and use it toward positive ends, to make choices about who we want to be in our world.
According to a recent study, a daily action like eating fruit at lunch or running for fifteen minutes took an average of sixty-six days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become. However, there was a lot of variation, both among people and among habits – some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up than others.
The study also showed that if you miss a day here or there when you’re trying to develop a habit, it doesn’t derail the process, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t keep a perfect track record. But the first days seem to make the biggest difference, so it’s worth trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of the attempted-habit-acquisition process.
What do you think? What has been your experience in developing habits? How long has it taken, and what tricks have you found to help yourself acquire -- or kick -- a habit?
Tonight I came across this article originally posted on Psychology Today's website, written by Sean Grover L.C.S.W. It really spoke to me and I wanted to share it with others who may be struggling to know how to navigate this life with a teenager. I hope you are able to find something in the article that helps you with your teen.
This is what a teen might say to you about his or her self-talk:
"I’m mad. I don’t know why. Sometimes I wake up mad; other days it creeps up on me. I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel good. I wish I wasn’t so mad, but I am. I can’t help it.
"Every day is a prison, trapped inside this changing body, repeating the same day over and over. My whole life is made up of things I have to do, not things I want to do. Tests, quizzes, reading assignments, papers, group projects — I spend the entire day with people I am forced to be with: teenagers who feel just as messed up as me.
"Sometimes my feelings get hurt at school — by teachers, deans, counselors, but mostly by other students. I don’t tell you this, because I’m ashamed to feel hurt. I don’t want you to know how hurt I feel all the time.
"My whole life has become 'I don’t want to...' I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to...I don’t want to...I don’t want to.
"I can’t think of a single thing that I want to do — except sleep. It’s the only time I’m not stressing, the only time I’m not worried, the only time I’m not upset.
"Sometimes I hide in my room and binge watch Netflix, YouTube, or mindless videos over and over, because I can’t stand to be with my own thoughts. I’m distracting myself from me. Does that sound crazy?
"And, yes, I know that my room is a mess. I like it that way: It looks how I feel inside. And please don’t ask me what’s wrong, because I don’t know. I don’t know where these feelings came from.
"I know that you’re mad at me. I can’t blame you. I stopped talking to you. Sometimes I say such mean things to you, horrible things. I blame you, curse at you, push you away. Sometimes I break things, because I feel broken inside.
"It wasn’t always this way. When I look at old photos of me in elementary school, I see a little kid who was so happy all the time. A little kid who loved to dance and sing, who loved to be silly, who didn’t care what people thought.
"I feel like that little kid is dead.
"I’m going to tell you something now that’s hard to say. Please listen, because I really mean it: Don’t give up on me. Don’t hate me back. I need you to be stronger than me. I need you to be my parent, even though I say I don’t want one. I need you to be more patient than I can be, more understanding, more accepting. Even when I am yelling at you, even when I tell you that I hate you, I still need you to love me.
"If I could tell you how to help me, this is what I would say:
1. Give me space.
Don’t come in my room, corner me, or make demands. I don’t have any answers. When you push me or yell at me, I feel worse. I need to be alone. I need space.
2. Don’t yell at me.
The noise in my head is so loud sometimes that I can barely hear my own thoughts. I can’t stand it. When you yell, I feel worse about myself. I feel unloved. I feel like I am your biggest disappointment.
3. Take my electronics away.
I can’t put my phone down; I try, but I just can’t. I know it’s devouring all my time, but I can’t help myself; I can’t stop checking it. I need your help. I need you to set limits on technology. Please. I will fight you, but it’s what I need. Don't try to reason with me: Just do it.
4. Bring me someplace quiet.
I say I don’t want anything to do with you. But if you could bring me somewhere quiet, somewhere we could walk together and not argue, somewhere I can feel the sun and listen to the wind in the trees, somewhere I can breathe and forget about everything that’s bothering me, I think I would like that. Even if we don’t speak, I will feel comforted.
5. Stop spoiling me.
Stop giving me everything I want. The more you give me, the more I resent you. I want to earn things. It helps me feel grown up. I want to learn how to save money, spend money, share money. And I’m never going to learn that if you keep giving it to me. I hate being dependent on you; please help me become independent.
6. Find me someone to talk to.
I need someone to look up to who isn’t you. I need an adult to admire, someone I want to be like, a person who believes in me, who pushes me, and who understands me. A mentor, a counselor, a therapist...anyone who can give me hope when I have too little for myself.
7. Tell me that you love me.
I pretend not to care. But I really need to hear you say the words, 'I love you.' Because right now, I don’t love me. Even though I’m making your life hell, I still need to feel loved. Especially by you.
"I guess that’s it. I know that being a parent is really hard. Sometimes you probably wonder why you did it. But I’ll get better. I promise. I’ll get older and we’ll enjoy each other again. Until then, understand that I appreciate you.
"I may not say it often, but still I love you."