Are your thoughts, beliefs and actions sabotaging your weight loss? I see it all the time with my clients. They kick ass with their workouts, eat healthy, lose weight and then BAM I get a text that they crashed. Their car magically arrived at In and Out Burger where they consumed 2 double doubles, a large French fry and a gigantic soda. WTF?!? Can you relate to this? Have you ever been on track doing what you think you are supposed to do and then you magically end up in the fast food line or on your couch double fisting ice cream containers and reversing all of your hard work?
After witnessing such events over and over again, I knew that there had to be more to the story than lack of will power. Why would someone work so hard and then throw it away for food? Food doesn’t have some magical power, it doesn’t have the ability to talk to you and taunt you into eating it. (Well….Maybe it does) I decided to search deeper into the behaviors my clients were exhibiting. I discovered neuroscience and the power of our thoughts, beliefs and habits.
Let’s delve into a little dictionary/definition session shall we.
A thought is defined as an idea that suddenly occurs into our mind.
A belief is nothing more than a thought that has been thought over and over and over again until we believe it to be true.
A habit is an action that we do repeatedly that reinforces our beliefs.
So basically, a crazy thought (from an unexplainable place) pops into our mind, shoves itself into our brains, we take that thought, believe it to be true and then take action based on it and now we have a new habit.
So what I have gathered is this, people adopt thoughts over a period of time and believe them to be true. Once they believe these thoughts they take action to reinforce them. If people adopt certain thoughts that come from Magic Land such as; working out is hard, eating healthy is too much work, I was born this way or (my personal favorite)… I always fail when I try.. then they are going to create actions that reinforce these thoughts. If I constantly told myself and/or verbalized to others that I was “fat” or “fluffy” then I am powerfully reinforcing these thoughts to be true.
This leads me to a little thing called neuro dissonance, or in other words, a disconnection in the brain. When our actions conflict with our beliefs, our brains force us to revert back to what it knows. For example, if we have set our brains GPS system to “Fluffy-Land” and we start to workout, eat healthy and say nice things to ourselves our brain thinks we are off course. When we stray off course towards “Fit-Land” with these new thoughts and actions our navigation system steps in, makes a lot of noise and sends us back in the direction of Fluffy-Land. These new actions are not in alignment with our GPS destination. This is when we find ourselves at the In and Out drive through. Our GPS is doing what it is supposed to do by telling us that we need to get back on course.
The good news is we can change our GPS destination by overriding the current one. We can get to “Fit-Land” we simply have to change our GPS settings.
Here are 5 steps to creating new thoughts, beliefs and habits so that we arrive at the correct location.
Step 1. NOTICE — Start to notice and observe your thoughts. Are they negative or positive? Do they help or hurt you? How do they make you feel?
Step 2. CHALLENGE — Challenge any negative thoughts that you notice. Where did they come from? Do they serve you? If not, tell them to take a hike.
Step 3. REPLACE — Interrupt the negative thought by replacing it with something more positive. For example, if you notice a thought such as “I’m not good enough” or “I will always be overweight” replace it with “I am good enough” or “Anything is possible”.
Step 4. REINFORCE — Keep reinforcing the positive thoughts and give less attention to the negative ones.
Step 5. TAKE ACTION- Take action towards your goals. Start working out and eating healthy. This time couple it with the positive thoughts and beliefs and watch your GPS start to change directions.
As a reminder, your current GPS system has probably been set for a very long time. Be kind to yourself as you go through the journey of changing destinations. You didn’t get here in one day so don’t expect to change in one day.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle
I’ve seen and heard about this book from various sources over the last year or so and just now got my hands on it. Being someone who works with others to make lifestyle changes, I’ve been excited about the impact it might make on my perspective and how I work with people. I can see why it’s been on the New York Times Bestseller list. Duhigg’s style in presenting a combination of hypothetical thought and scientific research is wonderful for all sorts of minds ranging from the creative to the data driven. Here are a few of my takeaways so far for you to think about:
40% of the actions we take each day are habits.
This means they didn’t actually require a conscious decision. This is amazing if you think about it! Nearly half of your day is essentially on autopilot! Better yet, our brains are essentially trying to create a habit out of every single thing we do. Why? Habit circuits in our brains require less brain activity. Like nearly everything else physiological, our brain is designed to make things as easy as possible.
The neuronal wiring of a habit never disappears once it is created.
This is either our greatest strength or most glaring flaw. The great part, we never forget how to drive home from work, even if we go on vacation for a month. The flaw, our brain doesn’t distinguish between good or bad habits. So if your habit on the drive home from work is to stop off for a tub of ice cream, that too returns after that month long vacation. We can override this habit by creating a stronger, more consistent habit, but that takes quite a bit of mental energy to establish and overcome.
The Habit Loop
Our habits are born through this idea that a cue, such as hearing our phone ding or seeing it light up with a text message, leads to a routine, us attending to the message, and ending with a reward, the excitement of a message (anticipated or novel) or the distraction from whatever we are doing. The habit being born isn’t the powerful part however. It isn’t instantly something that is automatic. Some habits, if the reward is consistent enough, create a craving in the brain that turns this into a powerful loop. You can actually see this in brain scans where the habit has been reliable enough to cause the brain to anticipate the reward. Our brain and body actually react to the cue as if it were the reward. This craving aspect is what drives the loop to be automatic. So now, after you’ve received several messages that brought you excitement, you automatically want to reach immediately for your phone every time you receive a notification. Now that this loop is really cranking it takes an immense amount of brain power to slow down. What if you end up in a big lunch meeting with a potential client and now your phone lights up? Of course it’s inappropriate in that setting, but you are already hooked. Even if you don’t give in, your attention is significantly divided and you’re spending much of your brain power on how to not reach for your phone, instead of closing the deal with a new client. That brain power is also willpower which may come to bite you later in the day. Your willpower is finite. So if you're spending large chunks of it throughout the day resisting urges from other habits, you will be weaker come nighttime. Hence, food cravings being the hardest to resist late at night.
Why do some exercise habit attempts succeed while others fail?
Exercising, we can all agree, is a good habit. Now why is it that some exercise habits stick and others fizzle out. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg cites a research study that claims people who continue exercising are the ones who “feel good” after exercising because of the endorphins produced by the exercise (“runner’s high”) and those who felt a sense of accomplishment from completing their workouts. This, among other reasons, is where having an exercise professional is paramount for creating exercise as an automatic habit. Many people who work out on their own or in classes never manage to work hard enough to reach the feel good “runner’s high”. More so, many people do not know how to or have the desire to track their workouts in a manner that shows their accomplishments and progress relative to their goal. Coincidentally enough, if you are tracking your workouts and progress appropriately, you would have the information you need to push your body into the endorphin rush stage consistently time after time. In this case, you get the best of both worlds! This is why we keep records the way we do in my practice. It drives people! Does anybody know the hottest trend in exercise right now? Here are some hints – Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, Polar, Nike Fuelband, etc… Yes, fitness tracking devices. The forerunners in creating and selling these products knew this information undoubtedly. If you’ve been struggling to make exercise a habit, I hope this sheds some light onto your situation. If you really want to move your exercise habits in the right direction, find a professional to help you make the change. Accountability, safety, efficiency, and a life changing new habit are all you have to gain.
What is your experience?
What are your tricks to making something a habit or getting rid of a bad one?
What habits are you struggling to set or get rid of?