A change of habit,
requires a change of environment.
Hello, fellow creature of habit.
As much as memory and reasoning, habits are at the root of how we behave. And as most habits are reinforced and become lodged in our brain, they become a critical driving influence in how we perform. It’s why I’m so obsessed with 30-day challenges—they are great platform to help make or break a habit.
Though to my dismay, bad habits usually emerge without permission. Often they direct me without my knowledge until something profound brings my long enforced habit to light. Sometimes it takes smashing TVs, waking up in curious places, no money in the bank, and a couple therapists to help connect the dots that those are due to the same habit that’s been formed.
Hacking Habits with Healthy Environments
Alcohol Podcast 3 of 4
That’s the story of Victor Yocco when his habit of alcohol abuse took hold. And hearing his story is what first peaked my interested in exploring my relationship with alcohol. As Victor shares his experience of struggling and overcoming alcohol abuse, we are offered a priceless cautionary tale. One that helps prevent habitually drinking alcohol in the first place and why we need to take a closer look at the environments influencing us. Enjoy.
How an Alcoholic is Made
If we don’t recognize habits as they grow, we are blind to our ability to control them, and they control us.
What led Victor to abuse alcohol makes complete sense (after standing in his shoes). As he rewarding a behavior (like a jog) with a hit of dopamine (alcohol), his brain began to associate alcohol with a good deed and a habit seed was sown. Which is exactly what led our previous guest, Mike Pond, to abusing alcohol–during his routine bike ride he would drink water on the way up the mountain and reward himself with water/vodka during his coast down.
For both, alcohol was habitually used as a reward until the brain assumed it was a necessity to achieve what it was associated with. Soon it became relied upon to function normally.
Hacking the Habit
Every habit works in a loop. There is a there is a cue, that trigger an action (the habit) then is reinforced with a reward. Charles Duhigg wrote the book, The Power of Habit, that expounds on this ‘habit loop‘ in detail.
In summary, to overpower a habit, we must recognize the craving that is driving a certain behavior. By unpacking how a habit has been formed and recognizing the craving that triggers the habit, we can break the habit into its components and begin to fiddle with its gears.
Then by making adjustments and small wins within each component, forces are set in motion that favor another small win which fuel more small wins. Finally, transformation occurs by leveraging tiny advantages and patterns that lead up to conquering the habit once and for all.
Preventing the Habit in the First Place
Victor mentioned if he could go back to avoid alcohol abuse in the first place, he would look for the moments when he started to rely on it. When we tell ourself we need something to perform well or function normally, our brain gets the hint and that thing becomes a critical cog of the gears that keep us running. Now that thing you enjoy becomes part of a habit and evolves into an addition.
By taking a moment to seriously question why we do what we do, we can analyze at the underlying triggers and habits that have formed, often unknowingly. A simple pause to think on this from time to time and, if necessary, implement a bit of willpower and discipline early on before new unwanted habits emerge.
Creating Healthier Environments for Creatures of Habit
“Man is largely a creature of habit, and many of his activities are more or less automatic reflexes from the stimuli of his environment.” – G. Stanely Hall
Not only have humans evolved to be creatures of habit, but we also evolve as a byproduct of our environment. Which is why taking a proactive approach to establishing purpose-driven environments can be a powerful method of creating inspiring and inclusive spaces.
So by proactively creating environments where key values (like being supportive of struggling alcoholics) become ingrained, we can mitigate offending others out of ignorance and establish healthier, more inclusive spaces.
Connect with Victor Yocco
Victor has been spreading awareness by speaking publicly and writing about his experience of struggling with alcohol abuse in an environment that promotes alcohol use. Those resources can be found on his website: VictorYocco.com. He has also made himself available for anyone who looking to connect and further hear about his experience—thanks, Victor!
If you have any thoughts regarding overcoming a habit of substance abuse or have ideas of how to create healthier environments, feel free to drop a comment below. Cheers!