Stop Signs, The Brain, + Habits

by Joshua Hoe

My neighborhood has a stop sign at virtually every cross street, except for one.

There is one street where people can zoom right through, but only from two directions.

You would be amazed how many people stop anyway.

Yes, cars actually stop and wait, just like they see a stop sign that is not there.

That is kind of how our addicted brain works, only it thinks that there are no stop signs and it ignores the signs it does see.

The Addicted Brain

Most of the books I have read on this subject explain how the addicted brain works in relation to how most people drive home from work.

I know when I have a million things on my mind, almost the last thing that I think about is where I am going, but somehow, I always end up home.

If you are like me, somehow we end up at home almost on auto-pilot.

This happens because our brains try to reduce the stress and strain (allowing us to concentrate on what we think is important) by automating the predictable patterns in our behavior.

So, for many of us, when we drive home we are actually driving on autopilot.

The Perils and the Promise

Addiction works (to our brains) a good deal like being on auto-pilot.

We see a trigger, our brain knows the trigger leads to acting out, it removes the stress and moves us from trigger to acting out on auto-pilot.

This, many people have suggested, is why even when we really do not want to, we find ourselves acting out.

But this does not mean that the process is irreversible.

What the brain can learn, the brain can unlearn.

The trick is learning to disrupt your auto-pilot and to replace good behaviors in place of your bad behaviors or substances.

As addicts, what we do in recovery, is create a new autopilot.

We learn to pay much closer attention to our own internal stop signs.

My stop signs include:

* Noticing I am getting grumpy with people
* Noticing I am getting standoffish
* Being sarcastic or short with people
* Feeling insulted or treated poorly
* Feeling alone or isolated
* Feeling tired or hungry
* When I am down or feeling helpless

There are many more (sadly) but I try to do inventories every day to check where I am at emotionally.

And I use this heightened awareness to change my behaviors for the better. I try to intervene on my own behalf when I see a stop sign.

What methods do you use to see your stop signs? How do you confront your brain on auto-pilot? I would love to hear your experiences, leave a comment!

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