If you’ve been around here for long enough, you probably know one thing about me. I solve my problems and deal with negative and positive emotions by writing. This is my response to everything. The writing can be writing posts, poetry, journaling, just scribbling something in my notes app… Words are my main tool in life.
After going through an unexpected rough patch, I realized that my brain tends to crave some of my old bad habits when I am in difficult positions because those same habits were there for me when I would be nervous or would be going through a particularly difficult experience. For example, I was a smoker. Last month marked 2 years since I’ve had my last cigarette. I still keep the last pack I bought as a souvenir, as a reminder of how strong I can be when I put my all into it.
I wasn’t just addicted to the nicotine; I was addicted to the feeling smoking a cigarette released. Smoking was a part of my life since I was 16 to up until two years ago. While I was in high school, between classes my friends and me would go in front of the school and share a cigarette. When we would go out, taking breaks between dancing and drinking would be going outside to have a smoke and we would talk, laugh, have fun. When I would get a bad grade, broke things off with a guy I was seeing, go through shit at home, I would go to cigarettes to calm my nerves down and for those few minutes I would focus on smoking and nothing else. It was poisoning my lungs but it was weirdly making space in my head to think. When I got my job, I was still a smoker and I would meet a lot of people in front of the building on smoke breaks and even find out important things that helped me navigate a new environment because people were prone to talking about the company’s culture and relationships between people when they were physically outside of the building smoking than they were while we were in the office or on a lunch break.
Even though smoking is bad, there was a positive impact it had on my life. It released endorphins the same way exercise does. It was linked to good and bad experiences in my life and this is why it was so hard letting go of it, especially because I did not replace it with anything else.
There was no habit I used to replace smoking. I felt that hard when I would drink my morning coffee and I would not have my obligatory three cigarettes with it. I stopped smoking right before 2020 and with entering the pandemic a lot of the behaviors I previously engaged with were gone. I was working from home, no more smoking in front of the building. I wasn’t going out. I started waking up late so I would drink my coffee while I am working and wouldn’t crave my three cigarettes so much. Somehow, decision met circumstance, and I dropped the habit for good but there’s a part of my brain that lights up during issues in my life and reminds me how good it felt to smoke. And that’s when I actually started rewriting my brain.
I developed the habit of working out to release endorphins. I have “comfort” things that help me to move through rough patches such as Youtube videos from my favorite creators, movies, books that I can watch/read which release endorphins for me and give my brain a rest because these things are familiar. I do not have to engage heavily to understand them, I know some of them by heart so my brain can rest when I am for example, re-watching a movie I like.
I started applying this in every aspect of my life because I feel like my negative emotions spark and bring the urge to engage in my bad habits because I am stuck in a routine that never changes. Over the last few years, ever since I quit university, I got to a point where I became too comfortable with being anxious, having panic attacks, not having the will or power to get up sometimes, going through my day like a robot just repeating the same routine. These are not things I should accept as normal and as something that’s a part of my life now.
I realized this through journaling daily and decided to do what I did with smoking. If I can write negative emotions out of me, if I can relive positive experiences through writing then I can rewrite my brain by disrupting my routine.
For example, in the evening I would often have something playing in the background while I endlessly scroll through pages of online content, blog posts etc., which in the end served no purpose. One night of doing this for a few minutes is okay and I still do it because I do not want to enter my hyper productivity craze which always ends up with me crashing into pure laziness and anxiety but doing this every single evening, 7 days a week, is not acceptable any longer. I don’t want to just sit in front of the screen, waste my time, make my eyes tired and afterwards have a night of horrible sleep.
I am rewriting that routine by reading and journaling in the evening. Tiding up my apartment. Doing a beauty routine. Yesterday I studied in the evening and then did some journaling before bed.
Working out has also become an important part of my life but sometimes, I just don’t feel like it. I want to be in bed or online instead of doing pushups but I am rewriting my brain to form a habit out of working out with music. I always put on music before I workout and while the song is playing I get into my workout outfit, prepare my mat and my weights and warm up. I train with the same YT trainer, Caroline Girvan, and all of her videos begin with the same song so it became a trigger in my brain to get into workout mode whenever I hear that song. Sticking to her workout schedule and constantly hearing this trigger that tells me it’s workout time contributed a lot to me sticking through 10 weeks of Epic I workout program and starting Epic II two weeks ago. At the beginning of this year, my workout commitment would last about 2 weeks and then I would quit.
Another bad habit I am trying to get rid of and rewrite in my brain is binge eating. This is a difficult one because food is very accessible and it’s very easy to fall into this habit. I do it more often than I would like to admit but I am aware of it and I am actively trying to come up with a way to rewrite my brain and to form a trigger that would stop me from engaging with this habit.
I really became a robot and observing myself as one made me realize that I programmed myself to behave in such a way and that I can rewrite it with consistent work and effort. This has also made me more productive, creative and motivated. I put down some of my goals on a piece of paper and gave myself 6 months to see how far I progress in accomplishing them. I am interested to see how many of them will be fully accomplished after the 6 months have passed.
Before, I would never create such a list because I was used to failing at everything I did and started so I knew that setting up goals and giving myself a timespan to measure my own progress would only result in a feeling of despair and disappointment. The situation is different now because I implemented small changes into my life which produced small, personal victories for me such as finishing a workout program that resulted in my feeling accomplished and motivated. Getting this hit of happiness and feeling proud of myself set in motion my desire to achieve more and helped me to start believing in myself again.
I guess it all comes down to the basic power every human possesses – our brain and how we decide to use it, nurture it and the story we write on it.