Why is Breaking Habits So Hard? (Not What You Think)

As you guys may know, I’ve been on a journey from recognizing I had an addiction to marijuana, to addressing it and changing my bad habits and living a new life. Since I began this journey I have relapsed. It terrifies me how easy it is to fall back into those bad habits. Why is it so hard to kick a habit I know is bad for me?

The answer is in the brain and how the brain protects my identity. The brain is a powerful tool, and all it really wants is for me to be safe and happy. I’m the one who trained my brain that drugs make me feel happy and safe, so why should I be surprised when my brain revolts against me changing those behaviors?

For years, I smoked pot with the idea that my day, my experience, was sure to be good (or at least better) with a wake-and-bake session. I did this for years. Then, I stopped. What choice did my brain have but to freak out and expect the worst? There was no tiger waiting in the shadows to attack me, but my brain thought otherwise, and sent all alarm bells throughout my entire body. I felt like crap; an anxious, irritable, mess. But in reality my brain was making feel like crap so that I would go back to what I had taught my brain was a good thing: my safe, comfy addiction.

My identity as a stoner had to change. Identities keep us safe because they are comfortable. And habits are a huge part of our identities. What’s a writer who doesn’t write? What’s a runner who doesn’t run? What’s a singer who doesn’t sing? Those labels don’t make sense without the actions behind them.

So what’s a stoner that doesn’t smoke weed?

Exactly. My identity has taken a huge shift in the last six months, and that right there is why quitting pot has been such a challenge. It wasn’t the withdrawals or the detox, it was the identity shift that was the most uncomfortable.

It doesn’t need to be, though. All I need to do is remember that my identity is flexible, that I am the creator of my own reality, and I don’t have to be caged in by the person that I was one year ago. It is a terrible nightmare to be my own jailer.

Have you ever had a ratty pair of underwear that are just so comfortable? Of course you do, everyone does. They fit like a second skin and you feel just right in them. That’s how it feels when I’m living in my habits. This can be good thing, if it’s a good healthy habit; or it can be a bad thing, if that habit is an unhealthy destructive one. How can I tell the difference? One will leave me feeling filled, the other will leave me feeling empty, regardless of how I felt during the act itself.

A perfect example of how to distinguish a good habit from a bad habit would be exercise: never have I ever regretted a workout, despite the piss-poor attitude and the number of times I said “f*ck this sh*t” during my run. After a workout, I always feel good and accomplished and ready for whatever’s next. Compare that to spending a day getting high: I may be laughing and recording funny videos for the gram, but it’s guaranteed that the next day I have a killer tummy ache and I probably spend money on something stupid online, something that will show up a week later and leave me wondering, “Why the heck did I feel the need to order a set of dishes from France?” (The dishes are dope by the way, and I’m def keeping them, but G-d knows I don’t remember ordering them.)

My brother told me a beautiful quote that fits this topic. It comes from the Bible, the book of Matthew, verse 7:16. “Ye shall know them by their fruit.” Jesus is talking about false prophets using the metaphor of a fruit: the outward manifestation of inner state. Another way of putting it is, “garbage in, garbage out.” What I put into my lifestyle, be it food or habits or drugs or people, will have an outcome, an effect. And it’s my job to judge that outcome as good or bad. I feel afraid of being overly-judgmental, but G-d/Universe/Higher Power/Black Jesus gave us the gift of perception so that we may create a beautiful life, to our liking.

In the spiritual circles, I’ve heard about changing one’s identity overnight. There’s a quote about changing one’s identity being as simple as slipping into a new jacket.

Yes and no. I used a lot of metaphysical techniques to jump timelines and embody that version of me that doesn’t even think about smoking weed. Those techniques (research the two cup technique for quantum leaping) were helpful because they were physical representations that an identity is just an idea, at the end of the day, an idea reinforced by habits. So I focused on changing my ideas about myself. It’s like playing pretend – I would pretend that I’d never smoked pot in my life, and I acted like this cup of coffee and a morning stretch was all I ever needed to get my day going.

Of course, my brain tried to hijack this process, but with my loving awareness, I was able to see my brain as what it is: a computer running a program, an old program. I was un-installing that program and replacing it with an upgraded one.

I know that I am not chained to my identity, but I also know from experience that I must take good care of whatever identity I choose, because it has ripple effects in my life. In the grand scheme of things, I can be whomever I want, but the person I choose to be will have an experience of either exhaustion and destruction or fulfillment and hope. Both versions will experience pain.

It is my ideas about my identity that make changing habits easy or hard. It is my attachment to an idea about myself; or my brain’s attachment to an idea about who I am.

I’ll sign off with this quote by Bill Wilson, “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right feeling.” Any time I change habits, my brain will go into overdrive to stop me, because it just wants me to be safe and comfy. I remember that I can change my identity by changing my actions, and my brain will eventually get the memo.

How has changing a habit challenged your identity? How has your identity changed as your habits have changed throughout your life? Let me know!


By justpearlythings

I am a writer, a lover, and a believer in the good things in life. I write about mental health and wellness, along with book reviews and fashion opinions. My blog caters to thoughtful, growth-minded women and men, and offers insights and personal challenges that provide a space for relevant, meaningful connection. The World Wide Web is vast, it contains multitudes, and so do we as people. I believe that through self-awareness and honesty, we create a more loving planet for everyone. Feel free to follow this page and share it with friends and family. Love, Pearl

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