How to change our lifestyle
The basal ganglia are a part of our brain that is responsible with the process of habit building. Repetitive thoughts turn into actions – brushing our teeth, making our beds, whether or not we gossip, the foods we eat, etc. There is a process that takes place within the basal ganglia that creates the motivation to act and create a routine or habit; the reward or benefit of acting in a certain way is also processed by this part of the brain. All of this circuitry takes place in a part of the basal ganglia known as the striatum and neocortex. The feedback within this circuitry helps pack all of the phases of action and reward/benefit into one cohesive subconscious thought. This of course requires dopamine – a neurotransmitter that provides a feeling of euphoria or pleasure. The right amount of dopamine is present whenever we have beneficial habits. Things like proper exercise, providing acts of service or doing a good job at work will all provide healthy levels of dopamine. Unhealthy habits – such as smoking, overworking or viewing pornographic material creates an excess amount of dopamine that creates a physiological imbalance.
When the right amount of dopamine is present, we feel a sense of peace and happiness. This is because our brain is chemically balanced in these situations due to the correct amount of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that are emitted in a healthy fashion. Bad habits, due to the imbalance they create, bring opposite results, often leading to sadness, depression and anxiety. Why would someone then, decide to keep habits that suppress the brain’s biochemical ability to bring happiness? Why would someone continue to live a lifestyle that brings emotional pain?
The answer lies in understanding the biochemical activities that take place in the brain. Whenever we participate in poor behavior such as harshly judging or criticizing others, desiring harsh punishments for people or even in thinking poorly about ourselves the body begins creating high levels of hormones and other chemicals. Excess amounts of cortisol and adrenaline are found in the bloodstream in addition to higher levels of dopamine. The motivations behind these actions are initially temporary perceived rewards – such as the feeling that may come from fitting in with a particular crowd. While there is a temporary feeling of euphoria that comes from being accepted, the excess levels of bio chemicals found in the bloodstream damages the body more than it creates feelings of happiness. If actions are repeated to continue to feel the temporary initial euphoria they become habits. This creates patterns and urges inside the brain that the mind maps out. When opportunities arise to exchange bad habits for good ones, studies have shown an increase in neural activity that takes place in the part of the brain that is responsible for self discipline and inhibition.
Our life is composed of a number of habits. We face choices every day that continue to shape our mind and character. We decide whether we wish to read a book, exercise, eat healthy, forgive others and a number of other decisions. Each decision we make has a direct impact on our health, financial stability, happiness and overall sense of peace. A great example to look at is exercise. Anyone that is in the habit of exercise continues to do so because of the reward that comes at the end of exercising. Every time we end an exercise routine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, create a feeling of satisfaction, leaving us with a physical sense of enjoyment. How is it then that some people will quit exercising after a few weeks? Or for that matter – why would anyone quit any healthy activity that creates a balanced biochemical effect that provides us with feelings of satisfaction?
To answer that question we began doing some research and conducting personal interviews to help uncover these questions and the motivation that drives people to change and start living healthier lifestyles. What follows are some of our findings. The results have less to do with starting points or the benefits/rewards that one may feel at the end. I found that everyone wants to feel good and understands, at least at an intellectual level, the benefits that come from living a healthier life. The true question at hand is why people don’t actually change and begin or stay engaged in activities that they already intellectually understand to be physically and emotionally beneficial.
A popular response to the question regarding people’s disposition to change behavior is will power. The idea however, that some people are better than others in their ability to draw upon internal will brings into consideration the tendency to blame genetics or our environment for our behavior. It also directly conflicts with the perfect physiological and biochemical make up of the brain that every person is born with.
What I did find in my studies however was a surprising answer – individuals who felt they could not create good habits, shift their reasoning and judgment to create new routines and habits that bring no health benefits, but that provide a perceived level of satisfaction in their mind. What follows are some of the case studies we conducted. The actual names of the people involved have been changed to maintain a level of confidentiality.
James and Basketball
One of the people I interviewed was a man named James. James is in his forties and was absolutely sure that playing basketball was not for him. This was interesting since James admitted liking the sport and enjoyed watching NBA games. This apparent contradiction was an interesting one so we both decided to work together to figure out why he felt this way. During the course of our interview he brought up a memory he had as a young man. James tried playing basketball a couple of times, but due to his clumsiness he did not do well and even had a ball hit him in the face. He recalled how he compared himself to other better and more developed players. This left him feeling stress and frustration regarding his ability to learn the game, causing withdrawal and a lack of confidence and desire to improve his skills. Shortly thereafter he quit playing basketball and replaced his initial love for the sport with drinking beers and a sedentary lifestyle.
Together we decided to experiment. I invited James to begin using Phytotherapi Stress five times a day. At the same time he also agreed to allow some his acquaintances who play basketball to take him along when they go play. Under the camaraderie and fellowship of these people, James began enjoying playing basketball. It’s been several months and James continues to play every week – something he would have never imagined doing a couple of years ago. I interviewed him recently and he expressed to me how much he enjoys his love for the game of basketball. He also remembered and expressed some of his thoughts he had as a frustrated young man, recalling how often he told himself that basketball was not a sport for him, and had even thought that it was a waste of time for people to play it. James’s experience helps illustrate how our minds can substitute bad habits in place of good ones – the mind is provided with arguments that keep us from pursuing good habits. In the end however, these arguments were nothing more than a mask James had on that kept him from showing his true self – a man with a love for the game of basketball and a desire to play it.
Stephen and Pornography
Stephen is a 38 year old man who struggled with an addiction to pornography. After one of our seminars, Stephen approached me and shared his challenge with me. He mentioned how his addiction cost him his wife and his family. Stephen went on to share how his lifestyle has brought him nothing but depression, a loss of sensitivity and what he called a feeling of stagnation as it relates to his creative abilities. Additionally, other activities, which can help bring a sense of balance to his life, had dissipated. At the point when I met Stephen he was a person filled with frustration, sadness and anger. When I interviewed him, I asked him what his beliefs were as a young man regarding family. He said that as a child he dreamed of getting married, loving his spouse and raising children. The thought or idea that pornography would be a part of his life never entered his mind. Additionally, he said that growing up he was always considered a gentleman and wasn’t the type of person to make denigrating remarks or jokes regarding women or sex. Anytime he thought about women it was along the lines of one day having a wife and family. As Stephen was sharing all this with me I wondered how all this could have changed. Initially my curiosity wanted to ask him that, but I felt impressed to ask him instead about family, friends, school, the community he grew up in, what he enjoys doing, how he responds to rejection, his line of work as well as his thoughts and relationship regarding God. As we spoke, on his own Stephen started commenting on how in different situations he had felt impressions to offer help to particular people or even to simply give someone a call. He confessed that he never followed through with his impressions. I found this interesting so I asked him about how he was as far as acts of service were concerned. Stephen mentioned that he did from time to time. As he explained the times when he offered services we both noticed a pattern – Stephen only did so when others were present to witness the service rendered.
As we continued our conversation it began to be very evident that Stephen had a lot of stress built up inside of him. Pornography was the outlet for him to relieve himself of stress. Knowing what we know about dopamine levels spiking when viewing pornography this all made sense. Additionally, even though he received a biochemical reward, he admitted feeling the prompting that he should not continue seeking pornography in order to alleviate his stress. When he initially got married, he stopped looking at pornography and focused on his wife and family. Over time however, the stress of work and kids began to accumulate. Instead of reconciling and closing stressful episodes, they began to build up in his mind and he returned back to pornography in search of the biochemical reward that came from viewing it. It is interesting to reiterate here what Stephen mentioned previously regarding the many impressions he received to offer acts of service. This illustrates how the mind will reach out and provide answers on how to rewire the brain in order to get away from unhealthy behaviors that cause biochemical, emotional and physical damage.
As part of the protocol to help Stephen, he began using Phytotherapi Stress six times a day to begin alleviating his mind of the chronic stress he’s built up over the past several years. He also began using a solution to help him sleep and to help with his anxiety/depression. In addition we also mapped out what his current daily routines were when it came to reading books, watching television, etc. We noticed a pattern, so together Stephen and I put together some additional routines in his daily activities to help keep things fresh and different.
To me Stephen is a hero. Although he’s still working on overcoming his addiction he has stayed focused on rebuilding his self esteem and is making improvements. His life and the changes he is incorporating is proof that we’re not destined to fail; that we all good and have light within us – even during our darkest hours. That light is always present. Once we understand that and act on the impressions that we receive we are able to change our lifestyle.
Ability to Change
The examples provided are cases that prove that each of us have the ability to change. Bad habits occur because we create them. When they are a part of our life, our brain continues to monitor them. Even under these circumstances we can notice strokes of impressions that come from time to time. When we’re under chronic stress however, these impressions can be blocked. In these circumstances we don’t have access to complete thoughts and logic. On the other hand, when full thoughts are introduced and reinforced, we are open to changing routines or habits. The only way to do this however is to uncover our true desires through eliminating chronic stress and allowing our minds the capability to see things as they truly are, and not through false perceptions based on fears or anxiety.
All bad habits have an effect on our health. It is difficult to change just by thinking or willing ourselves to change because once behavior plays out, habits are like trains – going faster and faster taking us from how we currently feel (Point A) and moving us towards actions which will create a feeling of reward (Point B). The rewards we feel once we arrive at Point B make it difficult to change our course and take other actions. While Point B may appear to feel good, there are other actions and habits we can build to take us to a higher sense of fulfillment and true happiness (Point C). The longer however our minds continue to travel from Point A to Point B, the more difficult it is to see that Point C is actually the best route to take. This however, can be changed as the mind is always looking to heal itself from damage we may cause it, similar to the way the body looks to heal itself from any sort of cut or bruise. We must be open and aware of the impressions and thoughts that we may be receiving from time to time that will allow us to change. There is proof that people throughout the world change. Our brain is designed to heal.