Monday, January 2, 2023

The Secret To Building New Habits. How To Train Your Brain

our brains are resistant to change
Our brains are resistant to change

It's the new year and this time we're going to get fit, read a book a week, eat healthily and…. Hang on, are you getting a sense of déjà vu?

New beginnings can inspire, but very often the impulse soon loses steam. And before you know it, all that rah-rah converts into guilt with a touch of shame as we worry we don't have enough willpower.

Here's how you can tweak a bit to help you make effective change.

We Are Designed To Resist Change

We like to think that we are powerful beings who are completely in control. As part of that story, we tell ourselves that all it takes to change a habit is to have the right mindset.

That's probably not entirely true.

The world is complex and dangerous, yet our species survives very well. One theory is that we are so fantastic at surviving because we have some inbuilt approaches that guide our thinking and behaviour.

This includes our tendency to think familiar= safe and unfamiliar=suspicious.

This works great when you're embracing your safe, familiar hunting ground on the plain and avoiding those amazing looking woods teeming with snakes.

It's not so hot when 'familiar' is snacking while watching Netflix and 'unfamiliar' is that spin class you signed up for.

Soooo, accept that building new habits isn't really about your morals or willpower; it's about overcoming millions of years of programming.

Rule #1 Dump the guilt. It's a waste of time.

Rule #2 Dump your punishment mindset

Many of us unconsciously adopt a punishment mindset. That sucks for a lot of reasons. Let me explain:

Supposing you are helping 10-year-old Suzie exercise more. If she goes for a walk three days in a row and then misses a day, would you tell her she's a lazy cow and useless?

Of course not.

If someone did call her names, what effect would that have on Suzie?

It would make her feel awful about herself and it would drain her motivation.

You wouldn't try to terrorise a kid or your friend, so treat yourself with the same kindness.

The secret to creating the right mindset for positive change is Motivate Yourself By Connecting With Your Personal Values

You're not a serial killer, right? You haven't launched genocide lately? Then you're probably a good person. Not perfect, but mostly good with a bit of gnarly here and there.

To give yourself a motivation boost, connect with your values.

For example: I'm exercising because I value my body and my health
Or, I'm exercising because feeling strong and flexible makes me happy

Rule #3 Disrupt your programming by making your brain view the new desired behaviour as more familiar.

The trick lies in keeping it SMALL and EASY.  Ideally, you tack a teeny bit of the new stuff onto a behaviour you already have and enjoy.

For example, when you like to snack in front of the TV, you do so, BUT while you're sitting down, you do ten left leg lifts and then ten right leg lifts. You do this once a night for a week.

Pro Tip: set your phone to remind you to do this. Or do it during the credits of a programme.

It's not difficult, and before you know it, you'll be exercising those legs automatically.

By February, buy a set of super cheap half kilo hand weights. Add ten lifts so you exercise your upper body.

By March, you're feeling pretty good about yourself, so you bookmark a few two-minute stretch workouts on YouTube. You do one or two a week.

Rule #4 You reinforce the behaviour you want

If you're not anxious or depressed, and you like to journal, then go ahead.

Another way is to buy a set of fridge magnets. Make a bet with yourself: for every two-minute YouTube workout you do, you move a magnet into the win area.

Seeing yourself win will give you a boost. Supercharge is by promising yourself a reward; twenty of those and you treat yourself to one of your favourite things.

Little changes add up
Little changes add up

Rule #5 Slow is successful

When you have a teeny bit of change going on, it adds up. Think of it like compound interest.

By April you should be feeling pretty fit. That's when you check out some bigger exercise project.

Don't go for a gym membership yet!  Try a short programme, something limited. Also, it has be something you love!

Maybe you want to go for a dive class. Or perhaps you sign up for ten dance lessons.

Whatever it is, you'll be a lot fitter already, so you'll have extra energy. When you go for that extra exercise, you'll enjoy it more.

And that enjoyment will have you going back. <- that is success!

Extra help: Find a supporting angel

Learning curves are slippery!  We do well and then we slide a bit and then we do well again.

As your brain will try to reset to old and familiar, it helps to have a person cheerlead when you're doing well, and to offer comfort and support when you're sliding.

That's where I come in. When you book me as a coach, we spend an hour working out a workable plan of action.

In addition, you can hire me as an accountability and support agent. We check in a few times a week for 5 minutes for encouragement and support. Basically, your very own angel.

The accountability and support service comprises of 5 ten-minute slots to be arranged at mutually agreeable times. Cost is RM200 if you're in Malaysia or US$45 if you're abroad.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please share with a friend. 

Images by John Hain and Kevin Schneider from Pixabay