Neuroplasticity – Retraining our brain to get rid of bad habits

“What were once vices are now habits.”

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.

The Doobie Brothers

Habits are hard to break, but understanding how they are created in our brain is the first step in breaking them.

No one likes having bad habits – smoking, over-eating, drinking too much – they are often expensive and usually bad for our health.

*I know there is a lot more to smoking  than just the habitual behaviors. Cigarettes are filled with chemicals that serve no other purpose than to addict the smoker. And I’m well aware of the fact that alcoholism is not a habitual behavior. But I’m talking about habits here, not addiction.

In terms of habits, think of it like walking in a virgin rainforest. The first time something is done, it’s like cutting through the rainforest with a machete. The more you perform this act, the more you are clearing the path. And after awhile, the neural pathway you’ve forged becomes easier to navigate, more like an open road. The more often it is traveled, the better the pathway. And this is great news when you are learning a new language or a new skill, the more often it is practiced, the better it gets.

What’s not so great is when this big neural pathway is associated with a habit you want to break, and the repetition of this bad habit keeps making it more entrenched. If each time you turn the key to start the car, you also light up a cigarette, the brain associates these actions together, and they become part of the same neural pathway. The bad news is that the longer you have done this, the more entrenched is this habit.

But the good news is that our brains are not static. Research about neuroplasticity is showing us that our brains can definitely change. We can rewire our brains and get rid of bad habits forever. We can all learn new behaviors and attitudes and transform our lives.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get rid of bad habits. But I am saying that it is possible. There are powerful ways that we can retrain our brain, and with practice rid ourselves of entrenched habits that we want to change.

Marilyn Gordon wrote a good article about training your brain to get rid of bad habits.  Each of the 10 steps deserves to be explored on it’s own, so I plan to dwell on each point individually in my next few posts.

She outlines the 10 steps as:

1. Identify the habit you’d like to transform and set the intention.

2. Observe what the old habit or pathway is doing in your life.

3. Shift your focus.

4. Use your imagination.

5. Interrupt your thoughts and patterns when they arise.

6. Use aversion therapy.

7.  Create a specific plan and choose what to do instead.

8. Transform the obstacles.

9. Connect with your Higher Source for inspiration and support.

10. Transform and make the shift.

I’ll close with a great talk, held at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, by Rick Hanson about Neuroplasticity.


I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.



19 thoughts on “Neuroplasticity – Retraining our brain to get rid of bad habits

  1. I have heard many analogies for the laying down of patterns. The Virgin forest is a new one. I love the visual! Tiny habits are working for me. Very simple changes with few decision points lift the burden of having to grapple with it when I’m most tired or triggered. So, instead of trying to overhaul my diet, I simply eliminated one food i was most likely to overeat: cookies. Silly and arbitrary, maybe, but making it this clear also made it easy to break the habit. One simple, unambiguous change at a time. They accumulate.

    Thanks for this great piece!


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. And thank you for sharing your ideas about simple changes to change habits. And NO it doesn’t sound silly to me, nor arbitrary. I think it sounds discerning and smart! Well done. Thanks again.


  2. The science behind feeding the positive and keeping out the negative. I love it! An old Indian told his grandson,”There is a battle between two wolves in all of us. One is evil, full of anger, hatred,lies and greed. The other wolf is good, full of love, happiness, kindness and truth.” The boy asks “which wolf wins the battle?” The elder replies “the one you feed” You’ve probably heard that before but it does hit the nail on the head for me when it comes to realignment to change habitual behavior. I’m an addict to the bone and I have to embrace an optimistic attitude towards change to keep the bad wolf in check. I was on the north coast last weekend and fortunate to spend some time with a great couple from NZ. Got me thinking of you. Heart felt smiles, Doug


    • Thank you so much Doug. Yes me too – an addict to the bone, committed to embracing an optimistic attitude toward life!
      Maybe that’s why we like each other so much!
      Glad you thought of me over the weekend.
      I think of you often my friend.
      Big Heart Felt smiles back : )


  3. Over twenty years ago I stopped smoking cigarettes. Up until then I was smoking 21/2 packs a day. I didn’t have the will power to stop, but I had a strong desire to stop. I got hypnotized. And it worked for me. Now I help others stop smoking using hypnotism.


    • Wow! Well done. We all know that smoking is the most addictive habit – so hard to stop. Admirable to help others stop now that you have.
      Thanks for re-posting my piece on Neuroplasticity. I appreciate it.


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    • Hi Nancy. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope this helps break the habit you were referring to. In terms of aversion therapy. Actually I’m not a big fan of aversion therapy really. As I say in my latest post, as a follow up to this one:

      In terms of point six, instead of aversion therapy as described in the original article I read, I choose to redirect my thinking. I personally think ‘aversion therapy’ is harsh, but in terms of neural pathways and habit breaking, redirecting thoughts leads to the creation of new neural pathways and again back to Self-Directed Neuroplasticity.

      Good Luck! And again, I appreciate you taking the time to respond.


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  10. Jumping in way late here, but I really loved your post. Your metaphor describing the forging of neural pathways is spot on. I can absolutely visualize the process now and it makes much more sense.

    By the way, the cover art on your book is fantastic. It’s clever, bright, and just fun to look at in its deceptive simplicity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow Zachary – thank you so much for that comment about my book cover (and about the post too, I appreciate that!) – I love my cover so much. I am so incredibly grateful to the design team at my publisher – She Writes Press.


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