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Drinking Habits

How To Create Healthy Habits

May 29, 2022
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 29, 2022
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 29, 2022
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
May 29, 2022
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
May 29, 2022
11 min read

As philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

The power of habits lies in the fact that they act as building blocks of our life. In the end, it all comes down to what we do on a day-to-day basis — for better or worse. Let’s dive into creating healthy habits and how we can harness the power of repetition to use it to our advantage.

Creating Healthy Habits

When it comes to changing habits, however, things get tricky. We’ve all heard the adage, "Old habits die hard," right? Well, as much as it may seem like an insurmountable task to alter lifelong habits, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption, new research shows that it's entirely possible! Let’s explore a treasure trove of science-based wisdom that can help us swap out harmful habits for healthier ones. 

Understanding the Lizard Brain

First, let's understand why habits are so sticky. The thing is, habitual actions might look and even feel intentional to some degree, but they are controlled by a more primitive, evolutionarily older part of the brain — the so-called “lizard brain.”

The lizard brain includes the basal ganglia, a brain structure responsible for instinctual behaviors including dominance, territoriality, aggression, and ritual displays — repeated behaviors shared with our earliest evolutionary ancestors that were, in one way or another, essential for survival.

When we perform an action repeatedly, our brain “assumes” this action is important to continue and starts to save energy by handing it off to the lizard brain, bypassing the prefrontal cortex where conscious decision-making happens. This automatic response system is incredibly efficient — it's what allows us to do things like driving a car without consciously thinking about each step.

This efficiency, however, can backfire when a habit turns out to be destructive, such as excessive alcohol consumption. Since the habit has become an automatic process, it can feel like we’re fighting against your own instincts.

A 2020 study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour explored the brain science behind habits. It found that habits, once formed, make certain activities automatic, freeing up brain space for other tasks. This explains why it can be so challenging to break the autopilot loop of reaching for that drink after a long day.

Breaking the Cycle

The key to breaking this cycle is bringing the action back into the realm of conscious decision-making, essentially involving the prefrontal cortex again. Techniques such as mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy — CBT — can help achieve this by disrupting the automatic loop and creating a new conscious one.

This does not mean that you're overriding, fighting, or ignoring your lizard brain. Instead, you're leveraging the plasticity of your brain to establish a new automatic pathway that aligns with your healthier habit. The idea is to observe what you’re doing without judgment and gently redirect your attention. When we repeatedly perform a new desired behavior — for example, choosing a non-alcoholic beverage — it, too, eventually becomes automated in your basal ganglia, replacing the old, undesirable habit. 

The key is to do this in a spirit of curiosity and gentleness. Think of the new habit as a fun experiment and observe what happens as a result.

The Power of Small Changes

If all of this sounds a bit daunting, here's the good news: small changes can make a big difference. B. J. Fogg, a Stanford researcher, emphasizes the importance of the method he calls "Tiny Habits.” The idea is simple yet profound: make the desired behavior easy to do by starting small — really small — when trying to develop a new habit. 

Here's how it works:

  • Find a new habit you want to form. For someone trying to cut back on alcohol, this could be as simple as "I will drink a glass of water before each alcoholic drink."
  • Attach the new behavior to an existing routine. This is what Fogg refers to as an "anchor” — a habit that's already ingrained in your routine, like brushing your teeth or having dinner. For example, if your goal is to drink a glass of water before each alcoholic drink, your anchor could be "When I finish dinner..."
  • Celebrate your success. Fogg emphasizes the importance of positive reinforcement in solidifying a new habit. This could be as simple as giving yourself a mental high-five or saying "Good job!" out loud.

By starting small, the new behavior is easy to do and doesn't require a lot of motivation. Over time, as the new behavior becomes a habit, it can naturally expand. 

For example, if you want to cut back on alcohol, start by pouring less in your glass or swapping out one alcoholic beverage a day with a non-alcoholic one. Remember, every small victory counts! 

The beauty of this method lies in its understanding of human nature and habit formation. Instead of relying on sheer willpower or major lifestyle overhauls, it focuses on making small, manageable changes that add up to significant transformations over time.

Don’t Forget About Physical Activity

Another surprisingly simple way to curb alcohol cravings is physical activity. A 2019 study from the University of Buffalo suggested that aerobic exercise might change the reward center in the brain, reducing the “feel-good” effects of alcohol. Think of it this way: instead of pouring that glass of wine, why not take a brisk walk or have a mini dance party in your living room? Your brain might just start associating these activities with the rewards previously linked to alcohol.

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the moment, has also been shown to help develop healthier habits. Many recent studies have demonstrated that mindfulness-based interventions have a significant positive effect on individuals trying to break habits — for example, trying to reduce alcohol consumption. Not only can mindfulness help you become more aware of the triggers that lead to unwanted habits, but it can also provide a calming alternative. Our app offers guided meditations you can use when cravings come up. 

Seek Support

Finally, let's not forget the power of human connection in creating healthy habits. Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that social support significantly increased the likelihood of successfully overcoming a destructive habit. This could be as simple as having a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend or joining a supportive community.

Making changes is never easy, but armed with this scientific knowledge, you're already ahead of the game. As you embark on this journey towards healthier habits, remember to be patient with yourself. Celebrate your victories, big and small, and remember, progress is still progress, no matter the pace. You are stronger than your habits, and you've got this!

Make Lasting Changes With Reframe!

If you’re ready to embrace the power of habits and create lasting change in your life, the Reframe app is here to help you get started. The tools and skills in the app can help you re-evaluate the role of alcohol in your life and change the patterns that no longer serve you.

With our # 1-rated app, you will have access to daily readings that will help you build new habits and approach life’s challenges in a more effective and enjoyable way. You will also get a set of daily tasks, including a journal prompt and other activities like guided meditations and motivational quotes to guide and inspire you.

You will also have access to a worldwide community of caring, compassionate people who are ready to share their stories and advice through our 24/7 Forum chat and can connect with licensed coaches for one-on-one counseling sessions and daily check-in calls via Zoom.

The Reframe in-app Toolkit contains a wealth of resources that will provide you with additional knowledge and help you hone your new skills. And above all, the Reframe app is free for 7 days — so try it today with no risk! We are confident that we can assist you on your journey and help you make meaningful changes in your life. See you in the app!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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