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Why Habits Are So Hard To Break



Before I answer that for you, I have a favor to ask.

Can you please try NOT to think of a purple elephant?

Seriously, do NOT think of a purple elephant.

Thinking of a purple elephant is bad. Thinking of a purple elephant is unethical. Thinking of a purple elephant is immoral.

Do NOT do it. Deal?

Hey, why are you STILL thinking of a purple elephant? Haven't I told you NOT to think of a purple elephant, why are you still doing so?

Okay, fun intended.

The whole point of this imaginative experiment is to demonstrate that our brain is incapable of NOT thinking of something. It always needs a point of focus in order to direct attention.

Therefore, when you try to tell yourself to "stop ABC habits", you will almost always fail.

Habits can NOT be stopped by avoiding them. The more you invest thoughts about the "Don'ts", the scarier it feels because you don't seem like to be able to control it.

Have you heard of this psychological problem called The Hot-Cold Empathy Gap?

Basically, it's a cognitive bias in which people underestimate the influences of visceral drives (hunger, thirst, sexual arousal, drug cravings etc.) on their own attitudes, preferences and behaviors.

Whenever we are affected in such "hot emotional state", these driving forces will have an overwhelming effect on our decision-making and behaviors. We'll become more "out of control" and very likely act impulsively in the heat of the moment, instead of staying on path of our original bigger long-term goals.

That's why it's hard to calm someone down when they're pointing knives and guns to you.

That's why it's hard to persuade your friend to leave a toxic relationship when he or she is madly in love.

That's why it's hard to stop food, sugar, alcohol or smoking cravings at night after a long day of exhausting work.

Therefore, it's extremely hard to predict how we're going to act when our cravings suddenly heat, because by then we will already be in an entirely different state of mind to behave rationally.

Remember, logic almost always lose the battle with our emotions.

Humans are more of emotional beings than rational beings. We rarely can logically talk ourselves out of situations when we feel emotionally compelled to do certain things.

Most of the time, we do things because we are rewarded by experiencing certain pleasant feelings or avoiding certain painful feelings, and we rationalize that behavior later on with logic.

That's why when a bad habit is set, it's almost impossible to change that behavior at the heat of the moment even though we know it's harmful to us.


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