Neuroplasticity: Explaining Why Bad Habits are Hard to Break

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt to conscious and unconscious internal and external stimuli in the environment. This could be physical, emotional, and even thought based. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to create more efficient patterns based on your daily activates, thoughts, and emotions and also allows the brain to regenerate and recover from physical trauma.


Learn all about Neuroplasticity in the previous blog:

Neuroplasticity Part 1: What is Neuroplasticity and how The Brain Rewires and Regenerates


How the brain is affected by your habits: be it good or bad

The brain does not judge habits as to whether they are good or bad for you, just that this is something you have programmed the brain to create neural pathways to easily reproduce. The brain will form neuronal connections based on what you do in your daily life. The connections form as you grow older repeating the same actions or thoughts. Examples could be looking at your phone first thing in the morning, choosing to be optimistic over pessimistic, playing with your hair, chewing your nails, for a gymnasts learning how to control specific movements while in the air to land. The more these patterns are repeated, they become more permanently etched into the brain.


This strong neural pattern by years of training your brain is why some habits are so hard to break. The more you do a specific action the easier it is for your brain to repeat this as a habit is formed. This is why good habits are easy to maintain and bad habits are hard to break. But regardless, habits can be formed and broken with the proper understanding and consistent practice.


What role dopamine plays in creating bad habits

  1. First an action is performed that is then followed by a feeling of physical or emotional pleasure, an example could be smoking. The brain then releases dopamine in response which is a positive neurotransmitter that allows someone to feel pleasure or satisfaction.

  2. Dopamine and the feelings associated with it is the reward for performing the specific action.

  3. As this action is repeated it becomes unconsciously linked to the newly formed habit. Over time dopamine is released earlier and earlier until even thinking about it can spark the dopamine release without having even started the action. This is known as anticipatory dopamine surge. When you get to this stage you may start to notice cravings for things like drugs, food, or whatever that action is that releases the dopamine.

  4. This premature dopamine surge causes the behavior to be repeated more often.

  5. Remember the brain does not know whether a habit is inherently good or bad, it just knows that a specific action sparks a positive feeling in your body. As this action is repeated over and over again it will stimulate the neuroplasticity of the brain and create new pathways to more easily do this habit.

Understanding how neuroplasticity to overcome bad habits

When it comes to fixing habits one of the most powerful tools is understanding why they were formed in the first place and why you feel the way you do about them. The body is literally programmed to follow these habits because your brain interprets it as a positive feeling rearguards of how it might actually affect your body, mind, and life. To change these habits your may have to undergo what some refer to as "rewiring" the brain.


Apart from the the brains ability to physically overcome trauma and self repair it is possible to rewire it and create new neural pathways. By doing so can allow you to create more positive habits, have better health and be more success in your daily life.


Learn more about creating positive habit here:

Neuroplasticity Part 3: How to Efficiently Incorporate Positive Habits for Long Term Success



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