myalternativetofacebook asked: How do you beat a real funky habit Unka Glen? I like biting my nails on occasions, but the real funky one is this thing I’ve been doing since I was a kid; and man, even as a grown up 23 year old man, this funky habit resurfaces on occasions. Pretty much how it goes down is I’m a thumb sucker as well as a hair puller (or trichotillomania, but you can just call me trich). Is there a strategy to breaking funky habits; and keep beating them every time they stick their ugly head in my window? Much love - Johan
Unka Glen answered: I can give you some strategies on breaking all these habits, and others such as cutting, smoking, OCD, and really any addictive behavior, but in order to do that, I’m going to have to drop some science. I mean that literally. Actual science. I promise not to go too deep, but like any other struggle, it’s important to know how we got into these bad habits, and how they work once we’re in them. We’ll take this in three parts.
Part 1: Remember that rock! Recent research has shown a connection between addiction and a substance called dopamine. This is very important because dopamine does something very specific in the front part of your brain (the Orbital Frontal Cortex, if you must know). This area of your brain has a very special job, it’s the part of your brain that says, “remember this thing, it’s of vital importance for future survival”.
So if you’re hunting animals with a bow and arrow a few centuries ago, you might notice a herd of animals when you happen to pass by this big rock. So days later when you get hungry, your brain tells you to go back to the rock (the idea being, maybe those animals will be grazing there again). Once you know that this is how your brain works, it’s easy to see how this can go wrong (because the rock itself can’t actually give you food).
If I have a terrible day, and I decide to cut myself, maybe the pain of that terrible day goes away for a second… and in that moment, my brain says, “hey remember this thing! We just found the solution to all our problems!”
But you know that you haven’t solved anything, no matter what your brain is telling you. And in that moment, we can turn to the Lord and tell Him, “you’re the only solution to my problems, I need your peace, not this bad habit I’m forming.” If we do, we can nip these habits, addictions and obsessions in the bud. If we don’t do that, we go to the next phase…
Part 2: Brain Police! As I mentioned already, the part of the brain that’s involved in these addictions and habits is in charge of processing information that your brain feels is life-and-death important. As such, addiction often causes this frontal part of the brain to route it’s signals to a primitive fight-or-flight part of the brain (the Cingulate Gyrus, if you must know). So your brain is trying to say, “this thing is as vital as breathing” (in fact this is the same part of your brain that tells your body to breathe), “and if you stop doing this addiction or habit, or obsession, then you just might die”.
However, there is a part of your brain that is shown to under-perform in OCD patients and in people suffering with addictions, and this area of the brain is in charge of shifting mental gears to process new events (it’s called the Caudate Nucleus, if you must know). This part of the brain processes the info from the front of your brain (where all this trouble started) and it’s supposed to act as a sort of traffic cop between it and the primative fight-or-flight part of our brain.
This reminds me of the verse in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Our habits are giving us a false sense that they are vitally important as we move away from them, and a false sense of peace and security, as we go deeper into them. Thus we take these habits captive, and refuse to listen to the false feedback.
Part 3: Mental Jungle! This leads us the final phase, if we’re all the way into our addiction, and we’re looking to get out, it’s about literally walking a new path. As a scientist named Carla Shatz says, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” Meaning when you think a certain thought, over and over, it forms a sort of pathway in your mind, much like a well-worn footpath through an otherwise impossibly thick jungle.
If you think about it, much of your life is like this, when you drive home, you don’t really think through every step, you just tell your body to go home and it mostly does the rest on mental autopilot. When we get to the point of a locked-in addiciton or habit, it’s important to realize that you have literally re-wired your brain to think a certian way. And the only way out, is to walk the same right path over and over until you rewire your brain to work a new way. Imagine praying every time you felt the urge to feed your addiction. Pretty soon you’d find yourself automatically praying whenever the stress gets too high.
This can take some time, depending on how consistent you are and how dug-in the addiction or habit is. But walking in this new way, reminds me that Jesus referred to Himself as “The Way”, and the early Christians were often called followers of The Way. This idea of following a path, and that path becoming a part of us, is a very attractive idea to me, much more attractive than rules and rituals. And I love these verses on that subject:
Psalms 119:104-105 I gain understanding from your instructions; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.