Why should you read this summary?
Do you have bad habits that you want to change? What is the role of our brain and our childhood on the destructive behaviors we have? What is the best way to build good habits? You will learn these and more from this book. You have the power to rewire your brain and overcome your addictions. This book will teach you how.
Who should read this summary?
People who want to stick to their goals
People with bad habits
People with addiction
About the Author
Richard O’Connor is the author of more than 5 books that deal with psychology. He was the executive director of a nonprofit mental health clinic called Northwest Center for Family Service and Mental Health. O’Connor is a psychotherapist and he has offices in Connecticut and New York.
Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior
Richard O’Connor, PhD
Do you hate it when you eat chocolates after swearing that you’ll go on a diet? Have you ever made a promise to yourself that you’ll stop doing something bad for yourself, yet you don’t? You try to turn your life around, but after just a few days, you stop trying. In this book, you’ll learn why we do things even if it’s not good for us. You’ll learn about the two minds that are fighting inside of us. They have everything to do with our bad habits. You’ll learn how your childhood makes a huge difference when it comes to how your bad habits are formed. You’ll also learn how willpower and self-control can help you in conquering self-destructive behaviors. Finally, you’ll learn about a 12-step program that helps people overcome their addictions. Are you ready to rewire your brain?
Two Brains, Not Working Together
As you open another bag of chips or smoke another cigarette stick, your mind is telling you to stop it. You know you should stop doing things that cause you harm, but you simply just can’t. You don’t know why you’re doing things that can damage you, and you try to put a stop to it. But you always fail. The things that are bad for us are called self-destructive behaviors and it comes from our two minds that aren’t communicating well. One mind tells us to do one thing while the other mind tells us to do another thing. We have a conscious self and an automatic self. Although they are both problematic in their ways, the automatic self is where our self-destructive behaviors come from. Our automatic self is where our biases and prejudices are. You can also find your old and bad habits here, as well as feelings that you’re trying to bury. Meanwhile, the conscious self is responsible for carefully thinking about things such as making decisions. The conscious self makes sure that whatever it decides on doesn’t harm us. Since it needs to concentrate, it can only focus on one thing at a time. While the conscious self is busy, the automatic self has already made a lot of bad impulsive decisions.
As your conscious self is worrying about which term paper to write, your automatic self is already telling you to open the chocolate bars on your study table. The best thing to do with these conflicting minds is to train the automatic self to make healthier choices. Stopping self-destructive behaviors isn’t as impossible as it seems. Studies have shown that a person can change the physical structure of the brain. This is called the plasticity of the brain. As you learn ways to change your self-destructive behaviors, new networks between cells in the brain are formed. These networks then override the old networks that tell you to keep overeating, smoking, or drinking. But for these new networks to form, you have to be consistent with the new healthy habits you have. The more you practice healthy habits, the easier it gets for you to do it automatically. You could read this entire book and learn helpful ways to change self-destructive behaviors. But if you don’t practice healthy habits consistently and regularly, you won’t be able to change your bad habits at all.
The Autodestruct Mechanism
As mentioned before, the automatic self does things unconsciously. This means that we’re not aware that it’s already making decisions for us. It aims to keep us happy, comfortable, and confident. But while its intentions are good, the automatic self does behaviors that initially make us happy but can hurt us later on. It’s because the automatic self is influenced by our prejudices, biases, and overall lack of knowledge about certain things. A basic example of the automatic self messing up is when you wear clothes that you don’t like because deep down, on an unconscious level, you want to fit in with the other kids at school. At first, you’re happy because you feel like you belong. But later on, you grow bitter because you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else. To see why the automatic self strongly holds on to self-destructive behaviors, let’s discuss the way we think. As we go through life, we want to make everything make sense. We want to make patterns so that life becomes predictable. If you do a good thing, you’ll get rewarded.
As we create more and more patterns, we create a paradigm to manage all these patterns. A paradigm is a way we think of reality and the world. We keep reinforcing this line of thinking as we grow up. Soon, it becomes permanent and unchangeable. We stick close to people that support our way of thinking. We stay away from those that challenge or go against what we think. If a particular person doesn’t agree that getting drunk every weekend is fun, we stay away from them. The people at the bar become our friends because we think they’re cool. As our concerned family and friends tell us that they’re worried about our behavior, we nod along but don’t listen. Because our paradigms are unconscious, the conscious self doesn’t get a chance to correct our problematic thinking. We block out everything that challenges how we see our world and how we see ourselves. When we’re forced to address self-destructive behavior, we protect ourselves. We use denial, rationalization, or just changing the subject. We do everything to protect our paradigm.
Keeping a journal is a safe place to start if you want to be aware of your wrong paradigms. We tend to dismiss facts or events that go against what we expect. It would mean that what we strongly believed to be true about ourselves and the world would be all wrong. So, the next time you’re disappointed about something, take note of it in your journal. First, write down what you expected to happen. Second, write what happened. Third, take note of the faulty beliefs and biases you may have. Fourth, list down the conclusions you made from your faulty beliefs and biases. Finally, try to determine what you possibly could have done differently. An example of this is that you expected to do well on your school report. But what happened was that you procrastinated and as a result, you did a mediocre job. Your biased paradigm thought that you could do your report quickly. Then, you determine that the next time you have a report, you should stop procrastinating and start working on it early.
Waving the Red Flag
Children often ask for attention through crying or throwing tantrums. They want attention from their parents and crying is the most effective way to do it. Throwing a tantrum is also a good way to get what they want. Adults with self-destructive behaviors often throw tantrums to get the attention they want. They don’t necessarily cry and stomp their feet in the middle of the mall, but they seek attention. Adults wave a red flag and do things that cause other people to pay attention to them. Of course, all of these are unconscious. These people secretly, unconsciously, want someone to notice them and make them stop. Usually, people who want to gain attention for their self-destructive behaviors had a shaky childhood. Their parents didn’t teach them about self-control. Thus, they act out. Perhaps their parents indulged them and didn’t offer much guidance. Another possible reason would be adults with self-destructive behaviors felt abandoned by their parents.
Because of a lack of love, guidance, or respect in their childhood, the individual may think they are not good enough. They try to find love from other people, but it isn’t the same. This unconscious frustration translates into self-destructive behaviors. The individual then performs self-destructive behaviors in the hopes that someone will tell them to stop. That’s what a loving parent would do, right? But even if someone tries to stop them, they often don’t. Aside from having self-destructive behaviors, these individuals could also have dysfunctional relationships. Committing suicide, self-harm, and alcohol or drug addiction are just one of the few behaviors that attention-seeking people would do. These “red flag wavers” try to ask for attention, but they fear that they might get rejected. They were rejected before when they were kids, what would be so different now? So, they manipulate how people pay attention to them by harming themselves or others.
But these red flag wavers never get satisfied because they know that the attention they have was manipulated. What these individuals need is to better control themselves and develop willpower. Anyone with a bad habit should learn these two crucial things. Just like how your muscles get defined with exercise, willpower and self-control can be strengthened. These abilities can help you not fall back on your bad habits. What are the bad habits that you want to break? Here are some helpful tips. Before you make a promise to yourself, make sure you’re 100% committed to it. Then, make it impossible for you to go back to your old ways. Constantly tell people about your progress. If you stop telling them about it, it’s their signal to check up on you. Another way is to go online and find a charity. You link your credit card to that charity and if you go back to an old habit, an automatic transaction will deduct money from your card.
To make it more inspiring to reach your goal, arrange to donate to a politician or a cause you hate. Another helpful way that can help you practice willpower is to avoid things that can trigger you. This can be little things such as avoiding bars on your way home if you have a drinking problem. Another way is to avoid bad influences. It can be easy to say yes to a beer or two if you have friends who drink regularly. Tell them that you’re quitting and if they don’t respect that, slowly stay away from them. Every time you want to give in to the temptation of smoking or drinking, remember the progress you’ve made. Hold on to the hope that breaking your bad habits gets easier over time. Mentally and physically prepare yourself that it’s going to take months. But don’t let this discourage you. Every day that you commit to your goal is a step closer to breaking a bad habit.
You’re Hooked: Addictions
You have no self-control when you’re addicted to something. You’re either addicted to a substance or you’re addicted to a certain way of behaving. Bad behaviors include eating too much or too little, impulsive buying, and having unsafe sex. You know you’re addicted when you feel distressed if you don’t get your daily fix. If you try to stop, you experience withdrawals such as sleeplessness, agitation, and anxiety. You think you can quit at any time you like, but you never do. This is your way of fooling yourself that you have control. But before anything else, why do people become addicted to a substance or bad behavior in the first place? Being addicted to substances such as alcohol is easy to understand. Alcohol makes you feel good. It loosens you up and you generally have a good time when you’re drunk. When alcohol is out of your system, you become irritable and bored. Thus, you keep drinking to feel good again. Drugs, on the other hand, create an intense craving in your brain.
Drugs such as cocaine and other substances such as tobacco can activate the part of the brain that gives pleasure. When this is activated, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released. This neurotransmitter then makes the person feel good. You can see why drug addicts are hooked on drugs. The longer a person uses a drug, the more damaged the brain’s pleasure center becomes. If it becomes damaged, this could mean that you would need more of the drug to make you feel good. Meanwhile, other parts of your body such as your liver are getting destroyed because of the drugs. Your relationship with your friends and family also deteriorates. You don’t care about anything anymore except for getting a fix.
So, how do you overcome an addiction? According to the author, you need to be honest with yourself first. You have to admit that you’re addicted and that you’re not in control. Going to support groups that are battling the same demons you’re fighting can be a tremendous help. Remember that you’re building your life again. The author got the inspiration for this 12-step program from an organization called Alcoholics Anonymous. The program gives you rules that you should follow so that you change your life. It’s not going to be easy and there are days when you just want to quit, but the 12-step program will help you all the way. Before doing the following steps, make sure you have a support group. If you don’t have one, find a person—a therapist or a friend—that will help you stay on track. Addiction will make you do things you don’t want all for the sake of getting your fix. You will betray, lie, and even steal from the people in your life. Overcoming addiction will be hard and painful but know that recovering from it will turn your life into a better one.
First, as mentioned before, you have to admit that you’re addicted. Shatter the illusion that you’re in control and that you can always quit. If you keep convincing yourself this, you’ll never be able to quit. Second, take it day by day. Repeat and believe in this goal. Tell yourself, “Don’t do a self-destructive thing today”. This isn’t an overwhelming goal, and anyone can do it. Third, acknowledge that there’ll be hard days. Brace yourself for the times when you can’t help but think about the self-destructive thing. No matter how tempting it is, hold on to the thought that it will pass. Keep thinking about how good it will feel if you don’t go back to your old ways. Fourth, go back to your morals. Accept the fact that your self-destructive behavior made you do terrible things. Yes, your addiction is a reason, but don’t make it an excuse. Commit to being honest from now on. Fifth, ask for forgiveness from the people you hurt in whatever way. This is related to the fourth step and it will help make you a better person.
Sixth, give back in the form of sharing your time. Volunteer to be an elderly’s companion for a day or go to a local beach clean-up. Doing good can make you feel good. It’s also a way of adding positivity to the world. Seventh, get into practicing mindfulness activities. Mindfulness is when you’re aware of how you react and behave. When you are mindful of yourself, you can spot how some actions might be wrong. From there, you can correct yourself. Eighth, repeatedly go back to the line of thinking that you can fake it until you make it. Even large and famous support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous use this line. If you’re just starting on your path to recovery, just go through the motions of attending meetings and repeating the phrases. As you keep doing this over and over, you eventually make it a part of your routine. One day, you’ll finally be able to say that you’re a former addict. Keep going through the steps even if there will be times when you don’t believe in it. Ninth, if you don’t have a support group, find a sponsor. A sponsor is someone to who you’ll tell everything when it comes to your path to recovery. They’ll listen to you without judgment but will also tell you the truth no matter how painful it is.
Tenth, have a journal if you can’t find a sponsor. Write or take a video of yourself every day and describe your experience. Express yourself on how the good days make you feel or how intense the cravings can be. Eleventh, focus on your short-term goal but also remember your long-term goal. Although taking it day by day won’t overwhelm you, it’s also nice to look at your long-term goal. Each day that you don’t go back to your self-destructive ways, it’s an opportunity for your brain to rewire. Your brain will slowly re-construct itself not to depend on a particular substance or bad behavior. As you make progress, resisting the temptation will get easier. Finally, for the twelfth step, keep practicing. Repetition is the key. The bad habits have formed connections in your brain. Repeat and practice good habits every day so that these new connections will be stronger and quicker.
You learned that the reason why you do things that aren’t good for you is that you have two minds that are at war. The conscious self is the mind that makes careful decisions for you. It has to concentrate on the many decisions you have, so it works slowly but carefully. Meanwhile, the automatic self makes decisions without thinking them through. It reacts on reflex and it doesn’t care about what is good or bad for you. So, how do you stop doing things that you know are bad? You have to train your automatic self to make healthier choices. This is possible because the brain is plastic. This means that the brain can change its structure according to how you think and what you do. You can rewire your brain. You learned that the automatic self does things without a second thought because it has one goal: to make you happy, confident, and comfortable. It doesn’t take into account if the ways to happiness are bad and self-destructive.
You learned that developing willpower and self-control are ways to help your bad habits. It can be hard to do this since these bad habits start as early as childhood. But make a promise to yourself that you’re going to change. The 12-step program will help you resist temptation by making baby steps. Changing yourself for the better is going to take a lot of work. Bad habits are rooted in your brain. But you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. By practicing good habits every day, you can rewire your brain and change for the better. You can defeat your demons and inspire other people to do the same. You are stronger than you think you are. Just take it one day at a time. Eventually, the bad habits, destructive behaviors, and addictions will be a part of your past.