Before you know it, it’s happened again
You’re driving the kids home, you’re tired and so you say “How about a McDonald’s tonight?” Yeah, you don’t have to cook, kids get a bunch of fats and sugars with a toy. It was meant to be a one-off treat, yet the next week you find yourself saying the same thing “How about a McDonald’s again?” and before you know it Friday night is ‘McDonald’s night’ and you don’t even say a word – it just happens.
How did you find yourself in this mess?
Mess of habits
“All our life, so far as it has definite form is but a mass of habits” – William James 1892
So what is a habit? One definition:
The choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.
The structure of a habit
You have a trigger for a behaviour and some type of reward. An example of this is when you are feeling tired (trigger), you reach for and eat the doughnut (behaviour) and a burst of sweet, sweet energy hits your system (reward)
Making life easy can sometimes work against you
Your unconscious mind is looking to make your life easier and will automate repeated behaviours. Yes, habits are about being efficient. At this point, it is worth mentioning the ‘The Basal Ganglia’, situated at the base of the forebrain, which comprises a distributed set of brain structures. They are associated with a variety of functions including procedural learning relating to routine behaviours or ‘habits’. Therefore they are thought to determine when to let a habit take over, i.e. when a chunk of behaviour either starts or ends.
This is a great system when it works in your favour, for example when you have been exercising for at least 3 months and at least 3 times a week, the Basel Ganglia kicks in and it becomes part of your routine.
However, it can work against you. Let’s take our example of exercising when they’re preparing to get ready and go to the gym becomes a protracted sequence of events which can be perceived to be just too much. e.g. you have to get the gym bag out of the cupboard, you have to open the gym bag, you have to put your trainers into the gym bag and you can’t find your water bottle, which means you have to go and buy one…………. it’s all way too much effort.
So what do we do when we want to change our habits? Let’s find out.
Key to changing eating habits
- Decide on what habit you want to change. If it is eating muffins (another word for cake) decide on what you want to replace it with, like a banana
- Identify and be very clear about the trigger.
When does it happen? At what time? Where are you?
- Work on one trigger at a time
- Rehearse in your mind, over and over again, the new behaviour.
- Act out the new behaviour, keep in mind, it can take 30-40 days
Deciding to make the change is the difference that makes the difference.
Decide before, not after
The ideal time to make changes is 3 days before you are in the situation, using the above plan I have just outlined. As you start the programming of your mind, spend at least 15 minutes with initial planning.
So what are common objections to the above process? Let’s find out.
“I don’t just want to change one snack; I want to stop all my snacking.”
This is a fair comment. What I have discovered over the years of helping 1,000s of people to change habits is that precision change creates a momentum of changes. It is important to be exact, accurate and clear about the desired change. Conversely, if we simply generalise and are not specific about ‘snacking’, then it will just not work long term.
When you take control and change one precise habit the brain can then generalise to change others.
“Oh, but I have discovered I have many triggers.”
Take your time and do not hurry as it’s important to work on one trigger at a time. Again, what I have noticed over the years is that as you focus on one trigger at a time you will reach a point where the brain takes over and you’ll find yourself automatically making changes.
“I don’t have triggers for food, I overeat for emotional reasons.”
So in this situation, precisely what triggers those emotions? If you are not sure I would recommend that you start to keep a diary of your emotions and how they relate back to your eating patterns. This will help you to trace and discover those trigger points.
YO-YO eating habits of ‘The Biggest Loser’ (American TV Show)
Its been well documented that a large percentage of people who appear on ‘The Biggest Loser’ TV show is able to achieve an initial impressive weight loss, but will put weight back on again within the subsequent 18-24 months of leaving the show.
What seems to be going on? The format of the show works and overweight contestants lose weight following the plan. Knowing what you know now, you may realise that on the show all the old eating triggers have disappeared, which means they have to establish new habits.
Each contestant goes home with good intentions only to discover that the new triggers have disappeared. What happens next is that the old triggers, these automatic, unconscious behaviours, slowly and surely fire off. Before they know it “where did all this weight come from?”
So what have we discovered so far?
- Habits are not bad or good – just efficient
- Habits have a structure: Trigger, behaviour and reward
- Change one trigger at a time
- Rehearse new behaviour
- Follow through with action
- It can take 30-40 days to embed the change
As you recall the opening to this article now, you can begin to realise the significance and effect of the visual trigger of the McDonald’s ‘Big Yellow M’.
So what will you now do differently?
When you think about how wonderfully complex we are as humans it makes sense to study further. At the moment NLP is one of the most powerful tools for changing habits. Learn how to help others and yourself to make changes without messing with their minds, click here to find out more about our in-depth NLP Training
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The article was written by John Cassidy-Rice