One of the main things that stands in our way when we aim to eat healthier, or do more exercise, is our habits. From the things we buy, to the way we cook. Even how we eat is effected by habits. If you have become aware of an unhealthy habit you would like to change, the good news is, no matter what age you are now, you can let go of old bad habits if you want to.
Here is a snippet from the Size HH book from Mindset Trainer, Caroline Ferguson giving some valuable tips on how habits are formed and how to change them.
“During your lifetime, you develop thousands of habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Habits – good and bad – are continually being formed, strengthened and weakened. But why does it happen, and how?
You brain contains 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) which make connections with thousands of other cells. Whenever you do, think, or feel anything, electro-chemical impulses zip down a chain of interconnected neurons at up to 120 metres per second (nearly 270 miles per hour!).
When a nerve impulse travels down the same chain of neurons several times – as happens when you repeatedly think a particular thought or behave in a particular way – those neurons cement themselves together and form a ‘road’, which allows the repeated thought or action to happen more easily and become automatic. Those roads are known as neural pathways. Another word for a neural pathway is a habit.
Repetition isn’t the only dynamic at play in the creation of habits. When you mix repeated thoughts and actions with emotions, habits develop more quickly and more deeply. Whether the emotion is positive or negative, the presence of feelings like happiness, joy, anxiety and guilt sends a signal to your unconscious mind: “This is important, pay attention.”
This emotion factor is the reason why comfort eating can exert such a strong grip. When you eat a food that’s high in fat and sugar (such as sweets or biscuits), your body releases feel-good chemicals that are as powerful as heroin. If this happens when you’re feeling unhappy or stressed, the high can temporarily lift you out of that dark place.
Your unconscious mind files away this information and the next time you feel down, it sends a message to your body in the form of a craving for sugary food to lift your spirits. So you have a repeated behaviour paired with powerful feelings, which results in an emotional eating habit being formed.
The problem is that after the high comes the crash, as your body is flooded with insulin to metabolise the excess sugar. You plunge straight back down again – even lower, in fact, because now you’re throwing negative feelings like guilt and shame into the mix, due to feeling bad about your loss of control.
Why, you ask, would your mind deliberately create a habit that’s not good for you?
Unfortunately, the part of your mind that governs comfort eating isn’t rational and doesn’t make the connection between eating sugary foods and the crash that inevitably follows.
The bad news is, once a neural pathway is formed, it’s there for life (which is why you never forget how to ride a bicycle, regardless of how little time you spend on two wheels). But the good news is that you can weaken the old, not so good habits by consciously choosing to form new, beneficial habits in their place. So what was once a fully-fledged, unhealthy ‘road’ (habit) in your brain, can now become more of an overgrown dirt track that you don’t visit very often! All you have to do is make a new healthier ‘road’, or habit instead. Remember, one at a time. “
So how do you form a good habit?