Did you know roughly 15% of the U.S. servicemen where addicted to heroin during the Vietnam war but only 5% out of those continued their heroin addiction once they returned to the U.S.? This means that 95% of those who where addicted to heroin during in Vietnam managed to overcome their addiction once they came home. Amazing figures when you think about how addictive heroin is compared to fast food and soft drinks.
David Neal, psychologist at Duke University, explains the phenomena:
For a smoker the view of the entrance to their office building — which is a place that they go to smoke all the time — becomes a powerful mental cue to go and perform that behavior.
And over time those cues become so deeply ingrained that they are very hard to resist. And so we smoke at the entrance to work when we don’t want to. We sit on the couch and eat ice cream when we don’t need to, despite our best intentions, despite our resolutions. We don’t feel sort of pushed by the environment, but, in fact, we’re very integrated with it.
To battle bad behaviors then, one answer, is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small change can help — like eating the ice cream with your non-dominant hand. What this does is alter the action sequence and disrupts the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.
It’s a brief sort of window of opportunity, to think, is this really what I want to do?
As you can see, the environment is important when you’re trying to overcome your bad habits. This is why I recommend people to begin studying in a library and to rotate in the bed when you’re trying to overcome bad sleeping habits.
You can read the whole story about the phenomena over at NPR.