The Little Book of Big Change, by Amy Johnson, Ph.D., is subtitled: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit. I picked it up recently after it came highly recommended as an insightful combination of spirituality and neuroscience in habit change, all of which I have an enthusiastic interest in, both personally and professionally.
Here’s a partial description, courtesy of Amazon.com:
“Little changes can make a big, big difference! In The Little Book of Big Change, psychologist Amy Johnson shows you how to rewire your brain and overcome your bad habits—once and for all. No matter what your bad habit is, you have the power to change it. Drawing on a powerful combination of neuroscience and spirituality, this book will show you that you are not your habits. Rather, your habits and addictions are the result of simple brain wiring that is easily reversed. By learning to stop bad habits at the source, you will take charge of your habits and addictions for good.”
The premise of this book is that our behaviors become habits because of their repetition which, over time, form neural pathways in our brain that encourage us to keep repeating the behavior. Since behavior originates in our thinking, the author suggests that by changing our thinking about ourselves and our habit (and not indulging in the habit), over time we can reestablish new neural circuitry, thus rewiring our brain. As long as we continue to obey the impulse to act on our thinking, we remain stuck in the cycle of our habit.
What interested me about this book is that the author herself was able to end an eight year battle with binge eating and bulimia with this foundation, after many years of seeking help through traditional therapy and other means.
Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change throughout the course of life – is a well-researched and accepted scientific finding. Neurologically, habits are formed through repeatedly responding to an urge or desire by acting on it. Acting on an urge – whatever it may be – strengthens the wiring of the habit in the brain. The more you act on an urge or impulse, the stronger the habit becomes. By not acting on your thinking or impulse over a period of time, those urges and impulses will diminish and eventually go away altogether.
That’s my short and sweet synopsis of the information in this book. Here’s my personal experience. Years ago, I was a smoker. By the time I was in my mid-20’s, I was smoking one or two packs a day. Mind you, I had committed to a healthy lifestyle years earlier and was a daily runner. Cigarettes were completely incompatible with my lifestyle, and yet I continued to smoke. I knew for years I needed to quit, but the habit – addiction – was so entrenched I didn’t feel able to stop. I made the attempt here and there, but always fell right back into the habit. One weekend, I attended a smoking cessation seminar with a friend. Among other things, the seminar leader told us this: If you have an urge to smoke and don’t act on it, the urge typically goes away in around 90 seconds. That’s it. If you don’t act on the addictive urge, it will pass in a matter of a minute and a half, or thereabouts.
That weekend I stopped smoking and haven’t ever smoked since. In the early weeks and months, I cannot tell you how many times I used that one piece of information to get me through those moments when a cigarette was calling my name. I would tell myself: This will pass in a minute or two, that’s all you need to get through. And it worked. I didn’t have to do anything. On the contrary, I just had to do nothing but let the thought -urge – pass. By not acting on my impulse, by not strengthening that neural pathway in the brain, the impulses gradually faded away. I haven’t smoked in 30 years.
There’s obviously a bit more to the book than what I’m writing here. That being said, it’s not a long read – it really is a “little book.” Though the author’s experience involved her eating disorder, the principles of the book can be applied to a wide variety of unhealthy behaviors. The author’s philosophy and approach may not be for everyone, but for anyone who has struggled with a destructive or unwanted habit pattern, this book could be life-changing.
Stay cozy this month!