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The Science of Self-Improvement and Motivation: 9 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits and Improving Your Life

If you don't use good strategies for self-improvement and motivation, you will have a lot more difficulty breaking bad habits and developing new ones that can improve your life.

Do you want to stop smoking, start eating healthy, lose weight, exercise more, be happier or make other changes to have a better quality of life? You will end up failing if you don't have a good strategy for achieving your goals.

By applying the new findings in neuroscience regarding brain plasticity and understanding what happens to the brain when you're developing new habits, you can have a better chance of breaking bad habits permanently and changing your life. Instead of trying and failing repeatedly, you can finally overcome the roadblocks that have kept you from living your best life.

Why do people have so much trouble breaking bad habits? Millions of Americans want to start living a healthy lifestyle, but most end up failing to break their bad habits. Instead of developing life-changing healthy habits, most people end up getting stuck in their old patterns and bad habits.

By understanding how brain plasticity works, you can dramatically increase your chances of breaking your bad habits and developing healthy habits.

Unhealthy habits, such as, smoking, not exercising and bad eating habits can have serious health consequences for individuals. In turn, serious illnesses resulting from unhealthy habits can lead to serious financial problems for patients as well as their families.

A study which analyzed bankruptcy filings in 2007 showed that 62.1% of personal bankruptcies filings were due to medical debt and healthcare costs. The financial burden of illness was great not only for the poor and uninsured. Even insured, middle-class families were driven toward bankruptcy by unaffordable health care costs.

Millions of Americans with unhealthy habits can lead to serious economic consequences for the United States.

According to ABC News, a study published in Health Affairs showed that smoking habits and obesity related to bad eating habits may be costing Americans $100 billion to $150 billion per year.

The unhealthy American lifestyle is driving health care costs way up in this country. This rapidly rising cost poses a major threat to the long-term economic health of the United States.

Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars getting treated for largely preventable chronic diseases. Millions are needlessly suffering and dying.

By developing healthy habits, Americans can avoid largely preventable chronic illness such as, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. Millions of deaths can be prevented. Billions of dollars in health care costs can be saved.

By breaking bad habits and developing a healthier lifestyle, many individuals can prevent catastrophic diseases as well as financial devastation for their families.

What can you do to finally break your bad habits and develop life-changing healthy habits? Read on to learn more...

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: Changing Your Bad Habits Can Change the Quality of Your Life


9 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits and Improving Your Life

Do you want to improve your life? Here are 9 tips for breaking bad habits and developing healthy habits:

  1. You must be willing to change. If you lack the desire to change your habits, you're probably going to fail. For example, you're probably not going to change your eating habits if you're just trying to eat healthy because your spouse wants you to do it. You're likely to eat junk food whenever you can get away with it. If you truly have the desire to improve yourself and improve your life, you will have more motivation to achieve your goals. You can not change unless you really want to do it. Ask yourself these questions: What is your bad habit really costing you? Would you be happier, healthier or even richer if you break your bad habit? Based on your answers, make a decision whether you want to change or not.
  2. You need to start where you are. If your starting point is too unrealistic, it can cause you to fail. For example, a common mistake for people who want to become physically fit is to start an exercise regimen that's too advanced for them. They start out being very motivated and work out beyond their capabilities. They end up having a lot of pain or they even injure themselves and then they end up quitting. Instead of doing too much in the beginning, just start slow. If you've been a couch potato for years and you want to start exercising, you can take baby steps at first. Start walking slowly for a short distance for about 15 minutes. You can keep increasing your exercise time by about 15 minutes when you're ready for the next level. Once walking gets too easy, you can start jogging or running. You can even add weight training once a week or more often. The idea is to start something easy enough that you can continue doing it as part of your lifestyle for many years to come. Your habit-changing strategy is more likely to fail if it involves something you absolutely hate doing.
  3. Make it easy to practice your new habit repeatedly and consistently. Anchor your new habit with one of your current habits. This is particularly helpful if you have a busy lifestyle and you're likely to forget your new habit. For example, if you want to start exercising by walking more, you can walk for 15-30 minutes before or after dinner, lunch or breakfast. In addition to anchoring your exercise with your meals, this has an added bonus of controlling your appetite.
  4. Don't over-analyze your motivation level. Otherwise, you might end up with analysis paralysis and end up doing nothing. For example, most people over-analyze their weight loss motivation. Instead of just getting started eating healthy or exercising more, they end up getting stuck waiting to have more motivation or inspiration to lose weight. Just get started. Some days, you'll be super-motivated; other days, you're not going to want to do much. It's okay. Just do what you can as often as you can.
  5. Lighten up about the habit-changing process. Remember, misery is only an option. For example, most people who are trying to lose weight get too stressed out about weight loss. They worry about every little thing about their diet -- what to eat and what not to eat. If they eat the wrong food or they "make a mistake" and end up eating more than they should, they have so much trouble just letting it go. Instead of just relaxing and enjoying the process, losing weight becomes such a miserable process. The end result? Failure to lose weight! It's way too stressful for anyone to stick to a strict weight loss diet.
  6. Allow yourself a day off when you need it. There's no need to start beating yourself up, if you mess up. For example, if you stick to your healthy diet most of the time and allow yourself to have an occasional "cheat day," you won't feel deprived. After you've had your favorite food or whatever food you were craving for, just get back to eating healthy.
  7. Focus on the bigger picture when you track your progress. If you're trying to lose weight, you don't have to keep track of every fluctuation of the scale. Instead, focus on how much better you look. Maybe your skin looks better or maybe you look younger. If you're trying to exercise more, notice how much better you feel when you're physically active. Maybe you were huffing and puffing a lot more when you just started your exercise program, but you're now more comfortable working out. If you maintain a healthy weight, you can decrease your risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.
  8. Have a plan for dealing with boredom, frustration and discouragement. Some days will not be easy. Some days you'll be super-busy and stressed out. Your level of motivation will probably fluctuate. So, make sure you get support from family or friends when you're having a non-productive day, week or month. A good way to deal with feeling frustrated or discouraged is to make a few fun changes in your strategy. For example, if you're trying to lose weight and you've hit a plateau, you can start doing more fun physical activities, such as, dancing, hiking, swimming or tennis instead of your regular workout. Stick to your habit-changing strategy even if you don't have a lot of enthusiasm. If you continue to take action, you'll start seeing results again.
  9. To keep boosting your motivation, make sure you notice, appreciate and celebrate any progress you've made so far. Give yourself a reward for continuing to take action and moving closer to hitting your goals. You can get a new outfit, get a massage, go out with friends or do something special for yourself when you make some progress. The best reward is that you'll start feeling better about yourself. Your self-esteem and self-respect will increase as you make better choices and develop healthy habits. This change in your self-image can keep you more committed to achieving your goals.

You've probably heard that it takes about 21 days of repeated and consistent practice in order to change your habit. Why? Your brain changes when you learn and practice something new. The new findings in neuroscience regarding neuroplasticity or brain plasticity can explain what happens to your brain when you're trying to break or change your habits. Read on to learn more...

The Brain Changes When You Break Bad Habits and Make Changes In Your Life

The New Findings In Brain Plasticity Can Be Applied to Self-Improvement and Motivation: You Can Break Bad Habits and Improve Your Life More Effectively

You can boost the effectiveness of your habit-changing strategy by applying the new findings in neuroscience regarding neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.

It’s important to understand what works and what doesn’t work. Most people read a lot and become very knowledgeable about breaking their bad habits and living a healthy lifestyle. This is a good thing to do, but it’s not enough.

Some people even go to seminars or workshops to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. This is good, but it’s still not enough. These activities can keep you busy, but nothing will really happen unless you take action repeatedly and consistently.

Reading about living a healthy lifestyle, going to seminars or workshops and becoming more knowledgeable about it will not help you unless you apply and implement your new knowledge.

There’s overwhelming information about living a healthy lifestyle, but this information can be totally useless if you don't apply this consistently. Even positive thinking can have limited value. It will take good ideas and practical steps to make things happen. You absolutely must take action repeatedly and consistently.

What happens to the brain when new knowledge is acquired?

The brain changes every time something new is learned. When this new knowledge is used repeatedly or new skill is practiced repeatedly, the changes in the brain are strengthened.

The changes in the brain can become permanent with repeated practice of new skills or with repeated use of new knowledge. Yes, it’s true! Scientific evidence supports the idea that practice makes perfect.

How does the brain change in response to new knowledge or new skill?

The changes that occur in the brain when learning or performing something new can be explained by neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, neuroscientists started making unexpected discoveries about the previously considered unchanging brain. They found that the brain can change its function and structure when it performed different activities -- it "perfected" its neurological circuits until it was better able to handle the task at hand. Neuroscientists started calling this fundamental brain property, "brain plasticity" or "neuroplasticity."

By applying the scientific findings about neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, some scientists have been able to do the following:

  • Help a deaf person to hear
  • Help a person – blind since birth – to see
  • Help people – considered incurable – recover from strokes they suffered decades before
  • Help eighty-year-olds sharpen their memories to function at the same level as when they were fifty-five
  • Help raise IQs and cure people with learning disabilities
  • Help cure people with previously incurable obsessive compulsive disorders and traumas.

The idea that thinking, learning and practicing can change brain function and structure is one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century.

Like all revolutionary ideas, understanding brain plasticity will have profound effects. Instead of an unchanging brain, studies have shown that children are not always stuck with mental abilities that they’re born with. In addition, damaged brain can re-organize itself and recover from impairment.

The neuroplastic revolution has implications for understanding how addictions, learning, relationships, culture, technology, phobias, disorders, psychotherapies and all forms of training can change the brain.

Understanding brain plasticity also has implications for understanding formation of habits, breaking bad habits and development of new habits.

For more information about the emerging field of neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, check out, "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge (shown below). There are many books on this subject, but this book is written clearly. The scientific findings are presented in an easy-to-understand manner even for those without a strong science background. It’s extremely fascinating stuff!

Brain plasticity is a good reason why consistently taking action can dramatically increase your chances of breaking bad habits and developing healthy habits. Getting information about new and healthy habits can change your brain. However, dramatic changes will not take place unless you keep practicing your new skills. Without repeated and consistent practice, your new habits will not become strengthened and will not become permanent.

By applying the new findings in brain plasticity, you can have a better chance of breaking your bad habits permanently and improving your life. You can overcome the roadblocks that have kept you from having a better quality of life. Instead of trying and failing repeatedly, you can finally achieve your goals and live a happier, healthier and richer, more satisfying life.

Do you want to have a better quality of life? If you're willing to change your habits, you can change your brain and change your life.

You Can Make Self-Improvement and Motivation Easy Just By Taking Action: Practice Makes Perfect

Books That Can Help You Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: You Can Break Bad Habits and Overcome Issues

What Do You Think? Please Share Your Comments.

Wendy Cooley, LMSW from McMinnville, Oregon on February 10, 2013:

Great article, I am reading Change Your Brain Change Your Life. I currently work in a position that I see people attempt to make changes and fall back to old habits about 50% of the time. Breaking old habits is possible but very difficult if you don't have all the tools and use them on a consistent basis.

Ramzeed from Maryland on August 04, 2011:

I really like this article. The only real way to self improvement is to have a will for one and I believe if you keep that will nothing can come in the way of that will. Great Hub!

LifeLiver on April 09, 2011:

Allie thanks for sharing this with us, It got me thinking. An I totally agree that one seriously is never to old to break his or her bad habits.

Neil Sperling from Port Dover Ontario Canada on November 21, 2010:

Character growth is a life long habit that definitely is worth while. You covered a lot of good information and your hub is well organized. Unending improvement is what life is for.... and your tips will help anyone who understands that growth is what is most important. thanks\

Love - Light - Laughter

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newheart123 on May 08, 2010:

Thank you Allie for your words. Thank you for sharing them. It's really both an inspirational and informative writing. :)

Allie Mendoza (author) from San Francisco Bay Area, California on February 11, 2010:

Thank you for your comments and your kind words, Cheeky Girl!

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother's younger sister. If she does have Alzheimer's disease, then it's such a shame because she is so young.

What we know about people with Alzheimer's disease is that they have moments when they will remember things and people. Even if the disease progresses, they will never "forget" emotional stuff. So, you can still easily hurt their feelings by what you say to them.

The best way to protect your mind is to break bad health habits and start living a healthy lifestyle. Chronic stress can damage the hippocampus area of the brain that's crucial for memory. Diabetes also has devastating effects on our memory.

Exercise can help boost your memory. It's not clear if it's the endorphin release, resulting stress reduction or increased oxygenation of the brain or the combined effects that boost memory. For many reasons not yet totally understood, exercise is a powerful memory booster.

Brain fitness exercises can also help memory as well as reminiscence, stimulating conversations and music. Yoga, meditation and other stress-reducing techniques are great for your mind.

Losing one's memory is so devastating because it robs people of their sense of "being" and their remembrance of people they love and what matters most.

You're right, Cassy! There are things we can not control. For the most part, we have the power to change and live a healthy lifestyle.

Thankfully, brain science is advancing rapidly! This is great news for all of us.

:) Allie

Cassandra Mantis from UK and Nerujenia on February 11, 2010:

Gosh, this is a great Hub. I am facinated by the way the human brain can change things and how we can change if we put our mind to it. But then I think of my Grandmother's yourger sister, only in her 60's and with Alzeimers Disease (I'm sure that spellng is wrong) who can barely remember anything any more, and I think how much we still have to learn and discover. She is a sweet old lady, who doesn't know her husand any more. How does Brain Plasticity and its theories help her to remember the last time that she could...well..remember anything, I guess!

Some things we can control alright, but we have to be aware, don't we. We have to be cogniscent of ourselves and our "being". But when we are damage by something like memory loss, there are only so many things we can do. Though we'd love to know how to fix and cure all kinds of stuff. (Well, I would anyway!)

Thought provoking stuff. Self improvement and the science that goes with it always facinates me, Allie. There are ways we can break bad habits. And thankfully, that's a good thing!

Papa Sez from The Philippines to Canada on January 31, 2010:

That's good to hear allie. One is never too old to learn or break bad habits. Now we must beware about what we practice and think for we might be training our brain on something that negatively affect our well-being. Thanks.

Allie Mendoza (author) from San Francisco Bay Area, California on January 30, 2010:

Hi Papa Sez! What they're finding out is that the brain *does* respond no matter how old you are. The new findings about brain plasticity has important implications for our aging population. We're seeing more people in the community who are over 100 years old -- and still highly functional! One 103 year-old senior still drives and another one at 105 years old still flirts with other seniors. If you continue to use your mind, you can still learn a lot of things even after 100 years of age. The problem is that many people assume that their mind will decline at a certain age. And when they stop engaging in stimulating mental activities, they do see a decline in mental and intellectual function.

Due to brain plasticity, practicing the wrong things can also train your brain to work badly.

Papa Sez from The Philippines to Canada on January 30, 2010:

Hi allie, those tips are applicable to many aspects of our lives. You made a case for brain plasticity and connecting it to breaking bad habits. I just wonder if there is a point wherein the brain cannot or are less likely to respond to even the best of practicing (a new skill or habit). The answer will be important to judge whether or not the adage "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks" is still valid. What do you think?

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