Altering your lifestyle can be hard. This seems to be the case with most personal changes, be it healthy eating, quitting smoking, saving money – the list goes on. In the past, I have tried a few times to be healthier by eating less chocolate or signing up to a gym, but nothing has really stuck. This is because it is hard to break habits ingrained in our daily routines.
Much psychological research has been done into how habits are formed and broken, and I think understanding this is key to successful change.
Habits are created by continually repeating an action until neural patterns are formed in the brain. This causes us to automatically do something without having to think about it. So I probably have many neural pathways controlling my bad habits, here are my top 3:
1.Opening the fridge the moment I get home for no real reason
2. Not having set meals so snacking throughout the day
3. Unconsciously picking at food as I talk to people (including the plates of others…sorry everyone)
…When your housemates start calling you ‘Annie Pickerman’, you know you’ve got a problem.
I think these pre-existing, unconscious habits are often where people fall. We continue to repeat behaviours despite the negative consequences. For example, one may know that overeating causes obesity, but will continue to binge eat despite that knowledge.
So how can we establish healthy habits when the bad habits are hardwired in our brains?
1. Becoming aware of the habit and triggers; bringing our behaviours into conscious mind can stop them from being automatically run by the hardwired neural pathways.
2. Replacing the bad habits with good habits; because it is much easier for our brains to make new neural pathways than trying to change pre-existing ones. So you must therefore repeat good behaviours until they form a neural pathway that can replace neurones for the unhealthy behaviour.
2. Rewarding the behaviours you want to repeat; if you reward yourself each time there is a successful healthy behaviour, you will reinforce the habit and help it to become automatic.
Of course, these are easier said than done but it does help to know that the brain is able to change, provided that you persevere.
I refuse to believe that I am stuck in an unhealthy rut – with commitment focus and patience, kicking habits or addictions can be done!
For anyone interested in habits, and the best way to break them, I really recommend reading ‘You Are Not Your Brain‘ by Schwartz and Gladding. It gives a simple 4-step solution of how to override your neural pathways to break any sort of habit, be it eating, smoking, negative thinking, etc.
Breaking old habits is difficult but not impossible!
Research suggests that it takes about 60 days for repetitive behaviours to form new neural pathways in the brain. So, I give myself 60 days to completely break my old unhealthy habits, by forming new, healthy ones.
However, another problematic cycle is that we have become heavily dependent on commercially produced foods, like sugar, alcohol and caffeine. So much so that we can get withdrawal symptoms if not consumed for even a few hours.
After much research, I have decided that the best way for me to break this dependency is to start with a juice cleanse for the first 10/60 days. This will hopefully tackle both problems. Firstly, it should break my dependence on unhealthy foods, so that I no longer crave sugar or caffeine. Secondly, it will hopefully eliminate my bad eating habits by replacing them with entirely new ones, in the form of juicing! This will help to set down new neural pathways for healthy habits, that I will reinforce after the cleanse is over.
Now I know juicing can be controversial and many people have strong opinions on its health benefits/consequences. My next post will be looking at the pros and cons of juicing from a both a biological and psychological perspective. But I can only really know whether a juice cleanse is beneficial by actively trying it myself!
To reinforce the new healthy juicing behaviours I will be putting 2 pounds away for each successful day of juicing, to spend on a new spiriliser (I know it makes me really lame that all i want to spend my money on at the moment is food products but apparently that’s the person I am now).
So… I bought a shiny, new juicer – let my 10-day juice cleanse begin!