Tips for Kicking Bad Habits: Get ‘em While They're Young, But Don’t Give Up if You’re Old

Self on 06.18.12
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Photo: UggBoy♥UggGirl / Creative Commons

We are gifted with neuroplasticity for the duration of our lives. What does this mean, and why should you care? It means that you can change your brain - great news for anyone who has bad habits and wants to kick them. Don't give up, because it's never too late.

We are in the midst of kicking the eating-in-front-of-the-TV habit in our household. I haven't had this habit all my life, although it's crept up over the last 6 years since I moved away from New York. I've been interested in becoming more mindful with my eating. Lately, I've enjoyed making healthy soups using fresh produce, and it just doesn't seem right to plow through such beautiful food while paying attention to the idiot box.

My dining room table had grown over recently with mail, paperwork, bills and the like. I'm not sure how it suddenly became paper central, but the table became a really unappealing place to eat. Once I cleared off the table, put on a nice table cloth and added a vase of fresh cut flowers and a pretty bowl of summer tomatoes, the dining room table beckoned as the place to eat again.

When it comes to our kids, it's best to help them out of bad habits as early as possible. While we do have our whole lives to change our brains, it's more difficult as we get older and become more set in our ways. Do you ever wonder why children have large heads in relation to their bodies? It's because 90% of their brain growth is completed by the age of 5. Think of all those raw little neurons firing, making memories, and building patterns and habits as brain matter forms.

As neuroscientists are fond of saying, "Neurons that fire together, wire together." So if your child is in the habit of eating in front of the TV, guess what? By allowing this, you could be ingraining a strong mental connection between eating and TV watching, a habit that may plague your child once middle-age spread hits and becomes a health concern.

If your child is younger than 2, this is the best time to lay the groundwork for great habits; it's easier to change habits while your child is agreeable, since we all know that a bit of willfulness kicks in around age 2 to 3. But of course the terrible twos don't last forever, and whatever your child's age, they will be pleased in the long run that you set them on the right path, even if their protests don't make that evident.

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