Don’t think of a pink elephant…Don’t think of a pink elephant…Don’t think of a pink elephant…! Did you think of a pink elephant? Bet you did! And I bet that, if you’re like most people, when you’ve tried using willpower to change your old unwanted eating habits, it’s not worked and you’ve been left feeling frustrated, drained and demotivated.
Most of us make the mistake of thinking that having strong willpower is the key to changing our habits.
However, the problem with willpower is we’re having to focus on the very thing we want to avoid in the first place. How backwards is that?!
So instead of using willpower to stop yourself from grazing every time you enter the kitchen (or change whatever habit you want to change), save yourself the time and energy and help yourself out by working with your brain as opposed to against it.
“So; what exactly is a habit?”, I hear you ask
Habits are behaviours embedded within our subconscious autopilot designed to make our lives easier by removing the need for us to think.1
Our days are full of habits; from the moment when we get up to the moment we go to bed.
Ever driven home from work only to walk through the door and wonder; ‘how did I get here…and how come I forgot to go via the grocery store’?! Well; your journey home was a habit and you went straight into autopilot, forgetting the novel part of your route.
From this very simple example, we can see that if we want to break old habits (as well as form new ones), we must make changes within our hard-wired, very powerful brains.1,2
So; if willpower never works in breaking a habit…what does?
It’s really very easy. Are you ready for it?
Next time you notice an unhelpful habit, put up a big red stop sign in your mind and then move your attention away from that habit. Go workout, speak to a friend or take a walk. Put on music and dance around your living room. Look at a funny meme. Tidy your sock draw! Just move your focus away from the habit.
What about if you want to form a new healthy habit like eating more fruit and veggies and drinking enough water?
Again; it’s simple. This time we need to put our focus on the habit; either by tying it to a time cue (I love using phone apps and alarms for this) or habit we already have in our days (that we want to keep) such as brushing our teeth.3
Don’t forget this though…
The key with breaking old habits and forming new ones is repetition. Whilst the above system may sound very simple (and trust me it is), it won’t change anything unless you keep repeating it. Again. And again. And again. Repetition is the master of all learning, especially when it comes to habits!1
It’s very important that you are 100% committed to changing your habits. 99% committed is where problems arise, as it gives us the option not to be consistent and in turn not be successful in making the changes we want. I highly recommend using a habit tracker to help keep you on target.
This material is written by Associate Registered Nutritionist and Wellness Coach, Lizzy Cangro. Lizzy holds masters in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge and Nutrition from King’s College London. Her rebellious approach to health and wellness incorporates nutrition and mindset to help clients skyrocket their confidence and achieve a greater sense of wellbeing. And now she’s here to help you do the same with her new book, Reclaim the Rebel. Find her on Instagram @nutritionbylizzy.
Lally, P. and Gardner, B., 2013. Promoting habit formation. Health psychology review, 7(sup1), pp.S137-S158.
Smith, K.S. and Graybiel, A.M., 2016. Habit formation. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 18(1), p.33.
Neal, D.T., Wood, W. and Drolet, A., 2013. How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), p.959.
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