Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why Is It So Damn Hard to Change?

Random Resource ThuRsday

This week I blogged about knowing the what's and why's that lead to your acting out.. and that you have to have data to understand your habits. Knowing your triggers is key to breaking an addiction.   When we act on our triggers, we are just reinforcing our trigger/behavior/reaction mechanism. 

Oprah is not where I normally get information for sharing but I thought this was a great article that talks about dopamine ..  you know the chemical released in your body when you do an acting-out behavior.  I cropped out a small portion for you to read but I urge you to read the rest.

Why Is It So Damn Hard to Change?

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Photo: Hugh Kretschmer
Dopamine teaches your brain what you want, then drives you to get it, regardless of what's good for you. It does this in two steps. First you experience something that gives you pleasure (say, McDonald's french fries), which causes a dopamine surge. Some of that dopamine travels to the area of your brain where memories are formed and creates a memory connecting those fries with getting a reward. At that point, in sciencespeak, the fries have become "salient." And when you're exposed to something that's salient, you may think, "That's bad for me, I shouldn't,"  but your brain registers, "Dopamine jackpot!" 

Which is where step two comes in: On top of creating memories, dopamine controls the areas of the brain responsible for desire, decision-making, and motivation. So once fries become salient, the next time you see or smell them, your brain releases a surge of dopamine that drives you to get more fries. When you succeed, your brain produces more dopamine, which reinforces the memory that made fries salient in the first place, etching it further into your brain. It's a never-ending cycle: The more you do something that's rewarding, the more dopamine makes sure you do it again. This is precisely how habits form. Eventually, if the fries become salient enough, your brain will release dopamine and push you to get fries anytime you see the colors yellow and red, even if you're nowhere near McDonald's.

And this is true for any behavior that results in a reward: Orgasms cause dopamine surges. So does hitting the jackpot when you gamble, winning a race, acing a test, doing cocaine or methamphetamines, smoking, drinking. "Dopamine is motivation," 


But my big question for Volkow is this: How do you get yourself hooked on something that's not inherently pleasurable to you—like living on salads and broccoli or, in my case, exercising? Many people get a natural high from working out. I, however, am not one of them. "Isn't there some way to trick the dopamine system?" I ask her. "Some way to fool my brain into craving exercise?"

Sure, she says: The secret is thinking up rewards. My payoff for working out could be a pedicure or a new pair of shoes. For someone trying to diet: Maybe you get a massage after a week of good eating, or have a friend dole out gift certificates if you stay on track (you pay, but she controls the vouchers). "Giving yourself rewards for a behavior engages the dopamine system so your brain will associate the positive outcome with it, which will help you form the habit."

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Well, I wish I could reward all the recoveryBox users with something great to help retrain our brains..but hopefully when you earn your badges, that will give you a small sense of accomplishment.

For more information about recoveryBox, visit the website and see if it's an app that might be helpful in your recovery from your addiction.