It's common to hear someone describing their habit as an addiction. I have often used the term in reference to my morning coffee routine or my late afternoon sugar cravings. However, it's important to differentiate between the habits that we naturally fall into-some of which are due to deeply ingrained survival instincts-and the disease of addiction. We form habits in the same way that animals respond to hunting and mating instincts. All creatures are hardwired to survive. It's the reason that fat and sugar taste so delicious, it's the reason your pet cat still acts a little like her wild ancestors even after generations of domestication. Addiction is a terrible disease that requires medical attention. Our habits are deeply embedded, but they are things we can work to change and improve.
habit or addiction?
The National Institute on Drug abuse defines addiction as "Chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences." Addiction is a condition strong enough to cause mothers to ignore their deepest evolutionary instincts and neglect their or abuse their children. It's something so powerful that a doctor can look their patient on the eye at discharge and warn them that the next time they use a drug will lead to their demise, only to have to pronounce the same patient dead less than a week later.
Science has shown us that the dopamine levels released in the brain of an addict are far stronger than what most of us experience throughout our day. I have casually described myself as being "addicted" to coffee, but the reality is that the second I found out I was pregnant I cut out my daily coffee consumption with minimal struggle. The drive to keep my baby safe was much stronger than my coffee habit. However, our habits are also quite strongly embedded. Things like eating and sleeping are necessary for survival so altering our routines around those things takes time and willpower.
the secret to strengthening your willpower
The good news about forming new habits is that willpower, like a muscle, is strengthened with use. If you have habits that you know are unhealthy then you are capable of replacing them with healthier choices. If you are working to build new habits then don't simply ignore your old desires and resist through brute mental strength. Instead, acknowledge the desire to return to your old patterns. Take note of the emotion behind your urges and exercise willpower by choosing an alternative path. For example, when I find myself battling that late afternoon sugar craving it's most effective to notice the craving, recognize that my body is looking for an energy boost and choose to eat an apple instead of a cookie.
We would love to hear what habits you are working to change! Reach out to us and follow our series on the life changing power of healthy habits through our social media pages.