It is just about impossible to sustain change on this scale. But change one small thing at a time and your chance of success is far greater.
How to Get around Your Neurology – Your Brain Needs an Action Plan
Think of patterns of behaviour as software – a line of code that either works for or against the system. To rewrite the coding is simple if you understand the workings of the brain.
There are typically three types of behaviours – possibly more – that sabotage the best of intentions. I am going to use the example of getting healthy and losing weight, as so many of us can relate to these in one way or another.
Where Angels Fear to Tread
Some of us, when we make a decision to change something, rush off in the general direction without much thought and with very little planning. These types jump into the latest fad diet in blind faith, spending vast amounts of money on supplements and fat burners. Then they rush to the gym, not knowing what they are going to do when they get there. A key distinction between people who make permanent, positive change and those who don’t is that the successful ones had a solid action plan.
These types will research the subject to death and end up with information overload. There are thousands of diets and eating methodologies online. Few work in the long term and most contradict each other. As for exercise, you may want to swim, run, dance or lift weights. But, without expert guidance, you are quite likely to cause yourself serious injury.
When all is said and done, there is so much information and there are so many choices that it is easier to do nothing. The brain is no good at multitasking. It likes clear objectives implemented one at a time. Overload your grey matter and it will short-circuit and go back to the default setting.
Stuck in the Mud
The third category consists of those who cannot get off the launch pad. You have planned everything down to the last detail. You have seen a nutritionist and have signed up with a personal trainer. But what if you fail? What if you don’t see it through? What if life just gets in the way? Sometimes, we are so sure of our plan that we disregard plan B, plan C, and even plan D if necessary. Life happens, and plans will seldom run seamlessly every time.
The ability to be flexible and foresee potential pitfalls is crucial in getting any change to become habituated.
How to Become the Change
Have a really good reason. Unless your reason is really compelling, you will have very little emotional energy to put behind your new behaviour. This reason has to be strong enough to override existing patterns, let alone get us out of bed at 5am on a cold winter’s morning to go to the gym. Willpower and motivation are completely dependent on this factor.
Choose one thing at a time, and then do it well. Focusing on something small, but important, often results in a ripple effect. A good example is drinking enough water. If you manage to get your water quota through the day, the resulting ripple effect is that you will have little room for soft drinks and numerous cups of coffee. You will often feel more energised, will reduce cravings and will have more focus. Just focus on getting more water, not what you are taking away.
What specifically do you want to do? It is not enough to say: “I am going to lose weight.” A clearly defined outcome requires details. These specifics also need to be realistic and measurable. For example: “I am going to lose10 kilograms of fat within three months from today.”
When are you going to do this? “I am going to do this by going to the gym five times a week at 6:30pm on my way home after work.”
How are you going to do this? “I am going to invest in a personal trainer for three of those five days. If I can’t afford a trainer, I am going to find a gym buddy to train with.”
What could possibly go wrong? “I could forget my gym bag, have no energy after a long, stressful day, or the gym could be too crowded to train in.”
What can you do to counteract these potential problems? “Pack my bag and leave it in the car the night before. Make sure I have a healthy snack just before leaving work. Ensure that I have options when I get to the gym.”
Simply becoming aware of the small steps that make the end goal manageable reduces what may have seemed like a daunting task down to doable pieces.
The key lies in the specifics. What? When? How? What if?
You can use this process in all areas of your life, and it is a fantastic technique to teach to children. It reduces the panic and sense of being overwhelmed that are associated with change, as it enables a dissociated state. But, most importantly, the process enables unconscious reprogramming. Once the exercise is done, the unconscious part of the brain takes over.
Simply revisiting your goals once or twice a month helps to develop the neural pathways that enable hardwiring of your new, desired behaviours.
For most people, the decision to get healthy and lose weight doesn’t last beyond two weeks. And the reason for this is all in your head.
The mechanism that has enabled the human species to survive as long as it has lies in our tendency to default toward homeostasis, that is, to tick over on autopilot as much as ‘humanly’ possible.
The brain is averse to risk and to change. Making life-changing decisions is counterintuitive to this state of being – even if the state you may find yourself in is in itself life-threatening, such as obesity or uncontrolled, chronic stress. If these behaviours have become habituated, so be it.
The problem is that most of our goals or decisions are blanket intentions, that is, they are broad intentions which involve too many complex steps and big changes that affect multiple areas in our lives.
Nicci Robertson - Become the Change you Want