Today on Minnesota Public Radio, they did a piece on breaking habits and making new ones. It was full of a lot of science-y talk, which is not exactly my forte, but it got me thinking. The guest, M.J. Ryan, was talking about how difficult it is to break a habit and form a new one, because our brains get sort of “hard-wired” to follow those habits. In order to change that, we have to do something different long enough to create new “wiring”. To be more scientific: “…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.”* While the show was actually referencing new habits primarily as they pertain to one’s career, I think the idea is easily applied to our eating habits as well. Let’s face it: most people eat without thinking a thing about it. You eat a chicken sandwich because you always eat chicken sandwiches, or you order steak at restaurants because that’s what you’ve always ordered at restaurants. You’re following habits, not really making choices.
Now it’s time for the vegan propaganda! Almost a year ago, I made a conscious decision to stop eating meat – a choice. It wasn’t easy to break 27 years of habit, but it also wasn’t impossible. Months later I again made a decision to stop eating dairy products and eggs in an effort minimize my contribution to animal suffering. Again, was it easy? Not entirely – but it was a choice I felt I needed to make, and I’m glad that I did. As it turns out, trying new things and creating new habits makes us more likely to continue to do so, which makes sense when you think about it. I found this to be very true when it comes to food: I now eat a LOT of foods I never even knew existed before. And guess what? I like them. It’s weird, but true. It’s almost like my taste buds have changed.
At any rate, apparently the great 80s band Chicago had it right about habits being hard to break–hard, but not impossible. Go veg and you’ll see what I mean!
* Rae-Dupree, Janet. “Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?” NYTimes, 4 May 2008.