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Rewire your brain to keep New Year's resolutions

January 4, 2013 5:19:13 PM PST
Keeping your New Year's resolutions involves developing good, new habits and ditching the bad old ones.

Staying on track can be hard, but doctors say there are only a few things you need to do to change your habits.

We make those New Year's resolutions and often break them in the first few weeks. So why it is so hard to break a bad habit, whether it's eating junk food, not exercising or being late? Well, blame your brain.

"Many of the same brain circuits involved in bad habits are also involved in addiction. The same automatic way you throw your dirty socks on the floor are similar to when you take a cigarette out and light it up before you even know what you're doing," said Dr. Michael Beauchamp, UTHealth Neuroscientist.

And here's where your bad habits lie -- deep inside your brain.

"The inner part of the brain, the basal ganglia, this is where all that automatic stuff takes place," said Dr. Beauchamp.

So the secret to turning a bad habit into a good habit is repetition. Weeks and weeks of repetition.

"You have to have baby steps, you have to have targets and you have to move slowly in that direction," Dr. Prashant Gajwani, UTHealth Psychiatrist.

If your goal is to be more organized -- like mine is -- here's what the expert suggests: Make it easy to be more organized. At home put a hamper where dirty clothes tend to end up on the floor. With papers, don't stack them up but sort through a few each day.

What about something you hate like doing taxes?

"You can break it down into steps, like this weekend I will get all the receipts together. Next weekend I will call up my brother-in-law the accountant and see what he thinks we should do," said Dr. Beauchamp.

"I would work out two to three days a week and I thought in my mind I was working out four to five days," Dr. Gajwani.

He now uses a phone app to track his exercise and calories. And they repeat, the key is repetition.

"If you do it the bad old way just once that will undo a lot of the progress you made toward rewiring your brain to do it the right way," Dr. Beauchamp said.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

Our experts say you not only have to repeat the good habit, but make it as easy as possible on yourself or you'll fall back into your bad habit. So if you're fighting junk food, leave apples out on the counter. And let yourself run out of the chips or ice cream that you really wanted.
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