Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Addiction and Self-Destructive Behaviour

Do you wonder why you keep engaging in addictive and self-destructive behaviour? Why you know very well what the right choice is, but you keep making the wrong one?

The book “Rewire” by Richard O’Connor explains where you can get started on breaking your bad habits by becoming more mindful and disciplined. Have a bad habit you want to kick? Let’s do it!

Here are 3 great lessons from the book:

• You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and a subconscious/ automatic one.
• Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.
• You can start breaking your bad habits by training mindfulness.



Lesson 1: You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and an automatic one.

Which one is it going to be after work – gym or TV?
The moment I ask you that question you know which answer is the right one.
Yet, we’ve all faced this or similar decision countless times, but still ended up on the couch with a bag of chips.

Dr. O’Connor says it’s because we have two selves, a conscious one and an automatic one. The conscious self relies a lot on rational arguments, it’s when you reason yourself into doing things, for example going to the library early to get a good spot, because it’ll be crowded later on.

The automatic self is in charge when you eat your entire popcorn before the movie starts. Your conscious self isn’t there to think about the consequences and only when it reactivates again later do you regret your actions.

Whenever you perform a bad habit, your automatic self is running the show, after all you’d never choose to do a bad habit consciously.
There are two ways then, to break bad habits:

  • Strengthening your conscious self, so it becomes the dominant force.
  • Training your automatic self to just stop slipping up.

Both works, but in the long run, training your automatic self is a lot less effort, because once the neural pathways have been established, they work on autopilot. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is very effective in helping to recreate these new, healthier neural pathways.

Lesson 2: Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.

Have you ever wished to yell at someone at the top of your lungs, because they really upset you?
Chances are often, when you wanted to, you didn’t.

Dr. O’Connor says you should have.

Emotions are chemical reactions in your body. They build up over time and eventually break, which is when we must let them out.

“Like water in an overflowing bathtub, they’ll find a way”.

You not yelling when someone harasses you in the morning might lead you to eat a whole pie by yourself in the afternoon, just because you bottled up those feelings.
Emotions are never right or wrong, it’s not for you to judge, they’re feelings and therefore not even meant to be based on reason and common sense.
When you’re trying to rationally pick your feelings, you’ll create a communication gap between your conscious and your automatic self.
Your automatic self really tells you to yell at your co-worker for deleting all that data, but your rational you steps in and says you shouldn’t cause a scene in the office.
Eventually, this conflicting advice might lead you to engage in self-destructive behaviour, like drinking way too much coffee, so listen to your gut (of course without yelling to your co-worker! but still finding a polite way of expressing your feelings and disappointment so it doesn’t bottle up).

Lesson 3: You can start breaking your bad habits by forgiving yourself and training mindfulness.

Rewiring your brain is never easy, but it’s easy to get started.
Alcoholics Anonymous use the saying “Fake it till you make it” a lot, and it helps a lot of recovering addicts get started.
It focuses on being dedicated to getting better, and giving it your best, even when you end up caving and having a drink after a week or two.
If you constantly beat yourself up every time you have a relapse, you’ll keep sabotaging yourself, because you’re repressing those emotions, remember?

Instead, focus on continuing your efforts until you eventually make not drinking a habit – it’ll get easier to control yourself over time.Another great starting point is training your mindfulness through meditation.Just by sitting down for 30 minutes every day and focusing and re-focusing your attention on your breath, you can substantially increase your awareness for when you’re about to do a bad habit.
Don’t worry about being perfect, it’s normal to have other thoughts as you meditate. Gently push them aside and re-focus your attention.
That’s what meditation is all about…..


Richard O’Connor, PhD, is the author of Undoing Depression, Undoing Perpetual Stress, and Happy at Last. For fourteen years he was executive director of the Northwest Center for Family Service and Mental Health, a nonprofit mental health clinic, where he oversaw the work of twenty mental health professionals in treating almost a thousand patients per year. He is a practicing psychotherapist with offices in Connecticut and New York, and lives in Lakeville, Connecticut.