As the days tick over and we see out the first week of 2017, a crazy amount of new years resolutions have already morphed into dissolutions. The prospect of ‘ losing weight’ , ‘ eating healthy’, ‘to quit drinking’, or ‘ exercise more’ is as ridiculous as it sounds without a firm strategy. The prospect of habit change is now a distant memory.
I discovered long ago I sit on the anti-resolutionist (if there is such a thing) side of things. Yep, no new years resolutions around here, nor any big goals I am striving to meet. I rather go about setting in place family travel and adventures while keeping an open mind to what may be presented during the year with work. Rather than relying on one goal, I prefer to bundle up a whole heap of small, positive behaviours that help to keep up a consistent level of goodness throughout the year.
It’s possible you may think I have been strongly driven by sporting goals. I’ve heard it before.
“It’s easy for you to maintain a healthy lifestyle because of your sporting career”
“Your motivation is made easy because you are good at something”
Here’s the thing. My sporting achievements are simply a by-product of choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle. It’s intrinsically driven rather than being extrinsically motivated.
The problem I find with creating specific goals is that they give us an end point. I’m sure you all know the feeling of post goal comedown. It nearly falls into the depression category or heavy cloud that leaves us without direction or purpose (especially if the intended goal wasn’t met). Having an end point is desired in some cases (perhaps you’re training for a marathon or have a uni degree to complete) but, when we’re talking about well-being, health and everyday fitness wouldn’t it be nice to have a system in place to keep this trickling over without yo-yo diets or sporadic gym attendance?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a system in place to keep trickling over without yo-yo diets or sporadic gym attendance?
New Year’s resolutions are about trying to break habits, which is hard, but certainly not impossible to do. We think we need to rely on willpower (which, if you’re a regular you will know this isn’t true). The moment holidays are over, life returns to normal and undealt with stress, tiredness and constant decision-making lowers susceptibility to returning to the all too common, well trodden path. Groan, failure presents itself and ‘I can’t change’ mentality repeats itself on autoplay.
Feeling trapped by a behaviour can leave us without hope, but the good news is it’s possible to break free NOT by learning new habits but knowing what you want.
A certain level of self-control is necessary to do anything that’s new. This takes time, patience and persistence. The more a path is worn, the higher chance of success it has to leave an imprint and take form. A neurologically hard-wired adaptive mechanism kicks in for us to want return to default. (even if it’s not what we know IS best, if you know what I mean). So make your new behaviour impressionable for it to be the new default. Don’t be too quick to blame the system. Knowing what you want comes through delaying gratification , and thinking of your future-self and this all comes through being pro-active and taking responsibility.
To experience lasting habit change, we need to look at the situation as an opportunity to learn what can be done to create a different outcome in the future. Act like your own super sleuth and search for clues that may of been bought on by a trigger, and event, an unrealistic routine? Establish a pattern of evidence for your own brain to observe, and plan for the future to intervene and change the behaviour before it has a chance to manifest. Think of it as rewiring your brain.
So, without going on another tangent (I could write 10 separate posts on all the above) what is the takeaway from all of this?
3 things to do to now instigate habit change
- Pay attention
Being mindful has been overused in 2016, and I feel like I’m on a bandwagon when I type it but it’s true. Call it what you want – paying attention, in the moment, being present etc but nothing is going to change until you face your current situation. Do you eat without paying attention because it’s a way of not admitting your eating the food? Perhaps by eating alone or bingeing doesn’t count if no one can see you? These are simple examples of how being in the moment can help deal with what action is repeating itself. With my clients I ask them to complete an eating awareness diary that records cues such as time, location, cues or triggers, current feelings etc when emotional eating is a key issue. With this information we can then access the best plan of action with strategies to help foresee a future trigger. This principle can apply to any part of your life.
2. Find something you love and the rest will follow
I have already touched on the subject of enjoying fitness and how important it is to find something you enjoying doing rather than doing something because you feel you have to. Recent studies show that when a new behaviour is started, certain areas of the brain light up. To keep this area lit up and firing (which helps create new neural pathways) there needs to be a reward. The feel good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin keep us coming back for more and the likelihood that it will form into a new habit (neurons that fire together, wire together)
3. Don’t overcomplicate things
Keep things simple. Overthinking leads to paralysis by analysis and with so much information in society today, it’s so easy to get caught up in everyone else’s business. Remember what worked for one person is not going to work for another, take your personal values and beliefs into account and listen to your gut.
If you’re struggling to find a way of eating that works, downscale everything for a while and keep it simple. Have the same 3 nutritious meals a day and include less variety in your choices. We get bored when there are fewer choices and the same goes for food. Why do you think we overeat so much as Christmas? Because there is so many yummy treats around and its hard to resist! Take the temptations away and we are also taking willpower out of the equation. Reign things back and keep it simple for a couple of weeks. It will beat any crazy diet out there…
I love helping others instigate healthier habits through techniques and current research into behaviour change. For more information on individual coaching sessions you can visit my page Karla Gilbert Wellness or join my 7-week program to jump right in and get the information and know how to form healthy habits for yourself.