When it comes to breaking unhealthy habits, here’s something that I hear quite a bit – “I know what to eat, but I just don’t know why I don’t do it”. Even when we say that out loud, many of the fibers in our body really believe that to be true. So, how can we alter that?
Well, what I want to share with you is that sometimes when you’re stuck in a cycle of behaviour, we feel really, really powerless. You think that that’s the way you’ve always been and there’s nothing you can do to change it because, no matter how many times you try, you just get the same result anyway.
What you are really fighting here are habits, and habits can absolutely be changed. Is it easy? No, but how we think about it and approach it can make it feel a hell of a lot easier.
So, it IS possible to change. And in this blog, I’m going to share with you the four steps in a journey of change.
Step 1 – Reflect and Recognise
The first place to start is actually to stop and understand how you eat presently. You are so eager to get to the action stage. You’re thinking and focusing on how to get results fast so you want to know what you need to do to get there. The problem with this is that you haven’t spent enough time reflecting on and understanding what you’re doing right now.
You may think that you eat completely consciously, that you intentionally make a choice every day about what you eat, but this is not true. There are both biological and psychological forces at play here. For now, let’s just stick with the brain. The brain works on two levels. Ten percent works from the logical and aware conscious brain whereas ninety percent of your brain is subconscious. The subconscious are all the behaviours, the actions and the lived experiences that you’ve had, which I like to think of as an old style projector showcasing little pictures of our life.
Your subconscious brain is responsible for those moments where you may find yourself doing something without even thinking. You know, sometimes when you get to the press and you think, “God, why am I in here eating, I don’t even remember feeling hungry.” This is actually your subconscious brain at work and where biological factors come into play.
So, why can’t you change your eating? Well, this because of what I mentioned earlier – you don’t spend enough time thinking about what you do now. And what you do now is often driven from that subconscious. So your logic is saying: I need to change and it makes sense to eat all these things that this person is telling me to do. But your subconscious, which is far more messy, is saying: I don’t really want to do that. I’ve been doing it this way for my whole life and actually I feel grand so I’ll just keep doing it. Do you know why that happens? It’s because your brain wakes up on any given day and it wants to feel safe. It also wants to give you fuel. The brain has two major functions – to help you to stay alive and to survive. And, the habits that you’ve created from all of that subconscious, all of that behaviour, they’re all there to help you survive. And they did it for a good reason. They didn’t do it to cause you harm. They’ve kept you alive. You are where you are today because of those habits. So they don’t want to go too quickly.
What is the key? The key is to spend more time listening to and understanding the subconscious. It’s getting to know your triggers and where they’ve come from. It’s reflecting without judgment. And exploring with curiosity the reasons why something is happening to you. For instance, if you find yourself standing at the press drinking a can of coke and eating a packet of crisps, stop for a moment and identify why you are there. Ask without judgment, what led you to where you are and what you are nourishing yourself with? When you do that you can become confident in your food choices because you’ve spent some time thinking about what is happening and why. What’s the trigger? What’s the first piece? Too often we skip over this major piece and really, it’s the most important.
Step 2 – Take Time to Marinade
So here’s another thing, right? Curiosity never killed the cat. Step two is to let all of this new information settle. And I like to say marinade. The reason being, that if you go into something without truly understanding what you are trying to accomplish, then you will never experience that shift that you are trying to make. You’ll never create that belief enough in you to say, “yes, I will do this!”
As you let the information settle and marinade around, the meaning really sinks in and what starts off as a tiny little shred of curiosity grows into this muscle to build on and strengthen. And, when that muscle gets strong and you get to a place where you say to yourself: ‘I will do this no matter what, I will take it, no matter what actions I need to, I will do it’, that’s when you know you’re ready to change.
When you let things marinade, you begin to understand and see how your life is operating. And the more you stick with curiosity, the more you begin to think about, ‘how might life look if I take this new road? If I do things differently, what impact will it have on my family, on my friends, on my work, on my meal choice? How am I going to feel every day?’ Imagine yourself after you’ve completed all of the actions that you think you need to do. Imagine yourself there. Imagine what positives you might be experiencing or how you might feel.
What’s happening for you right now is you’re starting to get excited about this so you might try to gloss over the negatives, but don’t. When change happens, there are going to be negatives along the way. There are things that you may not have thought about or things that will come up that will be difficult, but you understand that you will get past them. And that’s really important to remember when doing this work. You can’t neglect to marinade on the negatives, as well as the positives. When you include this thinking then they become very easy drivers of change because our brain suddenly operates from a new place. You start to think: ‘I feel safe here. I’m operating less out of my subconscious, and that automatic drive to keep me safe. And more into growth. There’s a new way. There are new opportunities for me.’ At this point you are instinctively shutting down the ‘I can’t’. And suddenly, you are thinking ‘maybe I can’.
Step 3 – Contemplate Action
You’ve spent some time understanding your triggers and you’ve left them marinating. You’ve decided ‘I am going to do this and nothing’s going to stop me’. Step three is where you contemplate action and you start making changes. We want to create a new reality. How do we do that?
Well, we can really do that by harnessing the power of the brain. Remember, our brain is there to keep you alive. It’s there for survival. It has your best interests at heart, and it really is there to help you, but it’s not there to be a critic and nag you all the time, it’s primary focus is to keep you safe.
The brain works through thoughts, feelings, behaviours and patterns, and when you manage those thoughts, the actions come from there. Where people go wrong is they try to make changes at action level. The body then resists because it doesn’t really understand. It doesn’t feel safe by the new actions that it’s been asked to take. So that messy, subconscious of all those lived experiences and behaviours that you’ve been doing in your past life, they’re all influencing those actions at a level that you’re not aware of. So we have to learn this cycle of how to manage the brain so that you can create a new reality.
Where we need to start is without thoughts. We have to change our thoughts to growth, to opportunities, to potential. Our body has to believe it so we can do it. So when we say things to ourselves, such as “I can’t change”, maybe we could reframe our thoughts and learn how to reframe our thoughts to something such as, “well, I can experiment with food and eating and movement without making any big decisions”. Doesn’t that feel far more safe and far more comfortable. So this is the kind of thought work that I do on my one on one coaching programmes with you.
Step 4 – Be Consistent and Persistent
Do you want to know what the fourth step is? Well, the fourth step is that you have to keep doing it – the same old dingdong day in, day out. And this is where you build your grit. This is where you build your resilience. This is where you actually really manage to change for the longer term, in a way that feels really easy.
It really doesn’t have to be hard, but what happens is that stuff gets boring in ‘the day in and the day out’. Your brain can get distracted when something shiny comes along. This is something we need to be aware of and stay on top of. Whenever we feel ourselves getting distracted by the shiny new object, we need to go back to step one and reflect. Where am I now? What new habits have I developed and what is it that I want to change now? How do I want to grow? This is how you sustain for a longer term. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing but don’t be afraid to change things up if you are ready for another level to help you maintain and sustain.
Failing is Learning
If you are reading this thinking I know all of these steps and you’ve been through it before, it’s an all too familiar pattern of ‘I’m great for six weeks. And then I fall off the wagon’. Well, has anyone ever taught you how to experience a lapse, a bounce, a fall down and get back up again? Has anyone ever given you the skills to understand that this is a normal part of the process? Failing is learning and what we do with that learning and when we work more deeply with our brain processes is that we begin creating new neural pathways. That subconscious piece that I talked about earlier? Well, we’re kind of cleaning that out. We’re taking out some of the old behaviours and putting in new ones, but they’re not gone too far. We don’t get rid of them completely because, remember, they kept you alive and they did a lot for you that was positive, even though it may not feel like it. They did a lot of things, with the best of intentions, to keep you safe. So they don’t go too far, but we are adding in some new supportive ones and strengthening the foundations for more building.
The word resilience really means our ability to bounce back. It doesn’t mean that once you learn how to be resilient, you’re not going to face challenges anymore. That’s what life is. It’s all about new challenges and resilience is how you get through them. But have you ever taken the time to teach yourself to be resilient? See, this is why you need a step by step process because we start with the very basics of ‘let’s just stop, listen and see’. Then we let it sit, settle and learn and let it marinade and think through what has happened. We move on then and we really commit to ourselves. We take action and figure out how to maintain when we feel bored and how do we pick ourselves back up again when we fall.
If you would like to learn more about building these steps into your day to day, I invite you to join me for a consultation or simply drop me an email to arrange a chat – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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