How Your Brain Controls Your Habits

When you think of January 1st what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it losing weight, joining a gym, or eating better?

We all want to reach our goals for whether it’s at the start of New Year or any other time during the year that we are ready to improve our life.

It’s those darn habits, though, that get in our way!

We push ourselves into a corner when life becomes hectic or stressful and our habits (good or bad) are there to help us. They’re almost like a superhero coming to our rescue. But what happens when our habits behave like our nemesis, instead, and lead us into a series of bad choices? How do we come out from under the spell they put on us?


Let’s be real, habits are hard to break, and wishing them away or quickly changing the poor habit with a good habit won’t work long term. You are fighting against your brain and part of the brain’s job is to keep you away from pain, whether that is physical or emotional. It will do whatever it needs to do to get rid of the pain. Think of it as a secret service agent. You don’t see or hear it, but when you need it, it’s right there.

When you align your brain’s primary job, however, with an approach where there is less pain and more of a reward, then your brain supports you 100% .

Let me give you summary of how habits are formed so you have a good foundation to understand the origins of your own habits..

Most of our habits are learned, not instinctual, but we perform them unconsciously all the same.. For example, brushing your teeth, making your bed, and making a bagel for breakfast – these are all habits we perform ni the morning and something we could even call a “morning routine”.

Here is another example for those of you whose morning routine involves driving to work. Have you ever driven to work and don’t remember the ride because you were lost in thought? You just performed this part of your morning routine unconsciously. You’ve done it so many times that now it doesn’t require a lot of brain power.

Now, there are also unconscious habits like nail biting and eating sugary or salty foods that we need to address too. These habits are triggered, often by stress, and guess who comes in to avoid pain or discomfort? Your brain. It tells you to eat candy or bite your nails because it makes you feel good.


The good news about unconscious habits? They do help relieve stress. The bad news? The reward becomes learned and permanent. The brain remembered that these actions makes you feel good. In other words, while the very first nail bite or reaching for a donut when you weren’t really hungry was a conscious choice, the hundreds and thousands of times that follow over the years are entirely automatic.

This behavior is, in a sense, like substance abuse without the substance. Just like drugs and alcohol, food and other negative habits are used as a form of self-soothing. Your brain, as I mentioned before, doesn’t want you to be in any pain emotionally, physically, or psychologically.

What you feel when you are indulging these negative habits is pleasure. Your brain provides you with “feel good” chemicals, such as endorphins, which in turn makes it hard not to want to repeat the action, never mind the consequences.

For example, when you’ve just had a hard day at work, and you are faced with picking up the kids, making sure they do their homework, cooking dinner and cleaning up afterwards, your stress comes to a head and you want something sweet to eat.

You don’t want to give into the craving, since you are trying to be good, but you hear a voice telling you, “You deserve it, you had a long hard day.”

The desire is stronger than your resolve, so you give in. You know the consequence of eating something sweet will make you feel angry at yourself, because your willpower was so weak, but at that moment it didn’t matter.

Not that easy, to change a habit, huh? The old ways we thought would work to help us lose weight or be healthier are no longer working. Why? Because we all have been doing it wrong. We rely on willpower and motivation to get us through it, but in reality, we need our brain to be on board.

I hope this helps you understand how our habits are formed and why we keep going back to the bad ones, even when we know the consequences. But you also learned what was missing in habit changing, your brain (the secret service). So, let’s work on this level instead.

If you want to learn more how to change your habits with this new approach you can reach me at lisa [at] luna-wellness [dot] com or go to my website and schedule a FREE discovery session at: