Want to form new habits?
Good news …We are Plastic!
Not in a Barbie and Ken kinda way, more that we have the ability to change our habits through rewiring, as our brains have plasticity. The notion of plasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change, this was once believed to be only possible as a child but lucky for us it continues throughout your lifespan.
The brain lays down particularly neural pathways in response to habits and these then become entrenched, for example, to cope with a stressful situation we may reach out for a lolly to compensate for the bad feeling. This then becomes a conscious and often unconscious action. The trick to forming a new positive habit is to be mindful of the trigger (stress) and the poor habit (eating the lolly) and at that intersection build in a replacement response or the ‘higher ground’ response like getting up and walking around the office or stretching. If the desire and motivation to change the habit is strong then it’s possible to form new habits through neural plasticity within a matter of weeks. The key is to identify the negative habit, form an alternative positive one that reinforces your desired outcome for change, and be mindful. Easier said than done but given time and repetition the rewiring will occur. Often the environment we operate in works against us, if our bad habit is to eat junk food for example then our environment facilitates this, as there’s junk food on every street corner. This just makes adhering to new habits a little harder but if you put in the work and the time then you can build resilience. The underpinning success to forging new neural pathways and therefore habits is the combination of focus and urgency (need, want, and desire for change) and then sleep/rest. Those elements will drive new habits!
Forming new habits:
- Identify the poor habit
- Be mindful of it
- Replace with a ‘higher ground’ or alternative habit
- Repeat the new habit
Sounds simple and is relatively – but seek professional advice if you need it, but if you feed a new habit it will form part of your new self and steer you towards better health.
In a bid to form your new life-enhancing habits you may find CBT helpful. It stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and can be done alone or with a health professional. CBT is a method of psychotherapy that can be used to combat addiction, body image problems, eating disorders, chronic pain, and anxiety.
Basically, it works on the premise that particular triggers cause us to THINK in a certain way, this then leads us to FEEL in a certain way which in turn dictates our BEHAVIOUR. Events characterized by the world around us, other people, personal history, and personal experiences cause us to have thoughts that evoke emotion including physical sensations such as shaking, palpitations, and nausea.
With patterns of behaviour around food typically starting young (15-25yrs old) by the time, we get around to dealing with stuff we are dealing with habits decades old. So the intervention needs to be effective and will require work. Someone living with an eating disorder, let’s say binge eating, might get triggered by stress. That stress might lead us to THINK we are inadequate and opens us up to FEEL ashamed which triggers the BEHAVIOUR of binge eating. There are many different examples I can use but hopefully, you catch my drift.
The trick is to intercept the THOUGHT or FEELING part (whichever comes first) – and attribute a new more positive THOUGHT or FEELING to the trigger. It’s vital to recognise the thought and feeling in the first instance to the trigger, then inserting the new and improved thought or feeling which will result in different behaviour.
CBT sounds very simplistic but once you get under the hood of why you have particular responses to events it can be multifaceted – if in doubt seek professional help
This is another arrow to have in your quiver to rid yourselves of bad habits around nutrition – hell any habit that isn’t serving you. Hypnosis is a very unique state in the sense that it involves deep relaxation and yet simultaneously deep focus – it’s like no other state of mind. Usually, we are oscillating between the two. As I mentioned a moment ago the key to neural plasticity is the elements of focus and urgency (need, want, and desire for change) and rest. Well with hypnosis you can all that in one session. Essentially neural plasticity gets accelerated when under hypnosis. If you need external help google hypnotherapist in your hood. Don’t mistake a therapeutic hypnotist for a stage hypnotist who is likely to get you barking like a dog wearing nothing but your underpants in front of a large theatre audience.
My experience has taught me that knowing the nuts and bolts of a healthy regime isn’t sufficient enough on its own to produce good health outcomes. More often than not it requires changing habits and contending with decades worth of entrenched behaviour. This intangible area of health and diet adherence needs to work as a muscle at a gym. If I want to get physically stronger I will lift a weight repeatedly to evoke adaptations and change. The same principles apply to mental strength and learning new habits – it all requires some hard work, perseverance, and repetition.
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