When you’re transitioning from an unhealthy lifestyle to a new one, it’s really difficult to make new changes. There’s a reason for this, and it isn’t that you are weak or have too little willpower or just don’t have it in you…you are actually training your mind, and changing the way your brain works, and that isn’t easy!
When we develop habits, we create little neuropathways in our brain that transmit signals. It’s a tiny little electric connection that makes us repeat our patterns. Our brain begins just working on autopilot:
- Wake up
- Don’t work out
- Get dressed
- Brush teeth
- Skip breakfast
- Head to work
- Eat junk food at work
- Choose comforting food for lunch
Training Your Mind is the Key
When you decide to make a change, you are actually trying to change the way your brain makes these connections. So your brain is going to be confused, make you feel discomfort, and do everything it can to get you back to those regular patterns, because that is what it knows and operates on.
It’s as if your brain has written a script already that you’ve followed all of your life, and you’ve gone and changed the plot! Ever wondered why it’s so hard to break a habit, why people seem to make the same choices over and over? That’s why.
Does this mean we’re doomed to our poor choices forever? Absolutely not. It is very possible to change our habits and our lifestyle, but it takes some planning and dedication.
Tips for Training Your Mind
A helpful strategy to put in place is to not just eliminate bad habits, but to replace them with new ones. For example, I have always associated movies with snacks, and sitting through a movie without one while everyone around me scarfs down popcorn and soda makes me want to run to the snack bar.
I dealt with this by putting my favorite healthy snack in a sandwich bag and bringing it in my purse (hey, when movie theaters start selling healthy snacks, I’ll apologize for that). I made sure it was some sort of finger food that would last, like almonds or pumpkin seeds or apple slices. If we’re at home watching a movie and I just really want a snack, I might get a cup of strawberries and a little bit of whipped cream.
Another bad habit I needed to kick was when my husband and I would go to see live music weekly; it always led to drinking and, in turn, to bad food choices. We decided to begin switching it up and going rock climbing on some of those nights instead. If we couldn’t rock climb, we’d go to a big park and have uphill races. It was still fun, we were still bonding, and this made it so much easier to keep up.
I try to keep my habit replacements realistic. Sometimes, my kids want take-out pizza. Instead of sitting and drooling, watching them eat it while I resentfully nibble on celery or salad, my husband and I will make our own homemade pizza on whole wheat crust, sprinkle some cheese and load it up with veggies. We’re satisfied with our meal (actually, I now like it more) and have decreased our chances greatly of diving into the calorie-dense, nutritionally-sparse take-out pizza.
Making over your lifestyle is truly a journey, a very worthwhile one, but just like every journey, it must be taken one step at a time. With healthy habit replacements, you will slowly but surely create new neuropathways for your brain to function with. This is the key that will keep you moving forward to your destination, and living a long and healthy life.