Building Better Habits
It’s a part of being human that so much of our behaviour is habitual. We have good habits that help us to live by our values, achieve our goals or acquire new skills. In addition, we all have bad habits that undermine our wellbeing and take us away from we’d like to go in life. We all have habits we’d like to come away from. Now science tells us that mindfulness training can help.
Curbing bad habits
Bad habits, and the addictive behaviour that often comes along with them are strongly associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. When you experience something pleasurable or stress-relieving, your brain is flooded with dopamine – which tells us there’s something really enjoyable going on here. Even something as simple as biting your nails when you’re under stress, releases dopamine. And in cases like this the repetitive action, and the associated dopamine release, give rise to a sense of relief. So when we’re stressed, the brain seeks to repeat that. It becomes an automatic response. The stimulus (stress) and response (nail biting) become tied together.
Elisha Goldstein, a clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher, tells us that it makes sense that more and more addiction centres are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. That’s because mindfulness practice activates the prefrontal cortex and cools down the amygdala. This allows us to widen the space between stimulus and response, opening the possibility for choice and allowing us to access possibilities and opportunities we were less aware of before.
That’s a crucial step when it comes to addictive behaviour. The ability to step back, “think-through the drink” and recognize the various options that are open to us in the moment.
For most of us, the habits we’d like to come away from are pretty obvious. But there’s another, rather pervasive habit most of us suffer from which is much less obvious. That’s the tendency to slip into mindless automaticity. The tendency to become disengaged from what's in front of us.
We need to focus on the present in order to excel and progress at work. But many workplaces reward repetition. And that can become a problem when employees are faced with things that are unusual or outside their control.
The same techniques that can help us deconstruct repetition at work also help us to break the habits we’d like to change. Over time, the triggers that drive our habitual behaviour tend to become invisible to us. And we become so used to the habitual response to those triggers that we generally don't even notice. Mindfulness training helps us to recognise a trigger. That gives us at least a chance to prevent the response.
Many people try to handle a bad habit by stopping themselves in the act, but by this point, most often, some of the damage has already been done. Stopping ourselves in the act, whilst helpful, doesn’t address the deeper-underlying cause.
Learning good habits
The same triggers that cause bad habits can be reassigned to operate as beneficial habits instead. Once we learn to recognise a trigger we can also learn to respond differently.
Mindfulness training powerfully opens us up to the possibility of choice – of learning to do things differently. That’s better for you, for your team, your family and for everyone you come into contact with at work and at home.
To find out more about mindfulness training at work, contact email@example.com, or call (+44) 01223 750430.