It can be really hard to change habits and routines, to live healthier lifestyle. Whether this means you don’t exercise as much as you should, or you succumb to late night snacking, or you just can’t seem to turn off Netflix and get to bed in time to give yourself a good night’s sleep, know that we all have areas where improvement is theoretically possible but in practice quite difficult.
Personally, I’ve come to believe that our culture and our psychology work against us to thwart our very good intentions. We usually try overpower these forces with willpower, which unfortunately is a limited resource and usually runs out before we want it to. A better approach is needed.
If you ponder where you are having difficulty getting traction, my belief is that a few patterns will predominate. Personally I’m a bit addicted to exercise, so I have no problem getting in a workout even if it means I have to get up at 4 am to go for a run before my daughter’s swim meet (back when we still had those). But put homemade chocolate chip cookies in my presence and they are going to get eaten, no doubt. And on the weekend I have a hard time not browsing the pantry for snacks.
Maybe for you it’s hard to keep from eating a second portion at dinner, or you often end up eating ice cream from the container at 9 pm, or you just don’t feel like going for a walk today.
Using the formula for success is one strategy to that can help you break these patterns. The formula is simple:
Notice your behavior. Pay attention to where your behavior seems to go off track. Notice that you are not doing what you had planned. Pay attention to your emotional state, where you are, the time of day, and who you are with. For example, you might notice that you love to prepare “tasty food” for family dinners (like lasagna) and you plan to have only a small portion, but by the time dinner is over you’ve eaten way more than you planned.
Understand yourself better. Do you notice any patterns that arise in what you’re noticing? The goal is to understand that your brain thinks the behavior you are trying to change is better than the one you are trying to choose. If you can understand that preparing “tasty food” is how you show love and care for your family, and that eating together brings you a sense of connection, you’re one step closer to success.
Use this information to increase your chance of success. If you can understand what your mind is craving when you hit a barrier, you open the path to try healthier ways to satisfy the craving. Maybe you could learn new recipes that are delicious and healthy. Perhaps you could have family game time after dinner. It might even be that when you realize you are seeking love and connection, and you focus on getting that through conversation and interaction with your family, that the 2nd piece of lasagna isn’t even desirable anymore.
I’ve learned that my weekend snacking is usually driven by boredom, and that if I find myself opening the pantry I need to leave the kitchen and find a project. Maybe chocolate chip cookies remind me of receiving love from my mother? For success I need to make sure they only show up in the house occasionally, and in small numbers!
Look for opportunities to practice the Formula for Success this week. It’s unlikely to be perfect right away, but persistence generally pays off with big rewards.
Dr. Topher Fox