Why are bad habits so hard to break?
New research says there is a biological reason our bad habits are hard to break.
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, an authority on the brain's pleasure pathway and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, you're fighting against the power of an immediate reward.
"We all as creatures are hard-wired that way, to give greater value to an immediate reward as opposed to something that's delayed," Volkow says.
Also, experimental psychologist Loran Nordgren said, ʺPeople tend to underestimate their ability to resist temptations around them, thus undermining attempts to shed bad habits.ʺ Nordgren, who studies the tug-of-war between willpower and temptation stated, "People have this self-control hubris, this belief they can handle more than they can."
In Nordgren’s experiment, he measured whether heavy smokers could watch a film that romanticizes the habit called "Coffee and Cigarettes" without smoking. Also, participating smokers were paid according to their level of temptation.
Nordgren said, smokers who'd predicted they could resist a lot of temptation tended to hold the unlit cigarette and were more likely to light up than those who knew better than to hang onto the pack.
Striatum, a dopamine-rich part of the brain, memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward. The striatum is triggered by environmental cues which make some behaviors almost automatic.
Today, some companies are offering employees payments or insurance rebates for adopting better health habits.
Dr. Kevin Volpp, who directs the Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania, said one experiment at General Electric pays smokers up to $750 to quit smoking. The number of participants has tripled since a cash incentive was introduced.
However, in a weight loss study which regarded participants with cash for weight loss found no difference.
Volpp believes environmental temptation might help explain the differing results. ʺIt's getting hard to smoke in public but "every time you walk down the street, there's lots of sources of high-calorie, tasty, low-cost food," Volpp says.