Can your habits really take 5, 10, 15 years off of your age?
Another woman wrote this week and said, “you get younger every time I see you!”
This photograph, taken in an old school room in Tryavna, Bulgaria, has a lot to do with why I apparently look a bit younger and have shifted some life habits. We’ll return to this photo later because you’re going to need one like it…and there is more to it than meets the eye… (start with context… a class room)
How do you really break a habit?
How do you get others to break habits, especially when they don’t want to?
How do you actually stop participating in bad habits (behaviors) and switch to good habits?
What precise steps do you have to take to make good habits stick?
What are some examples of habits that you can definitely be successful in changing?
You can eat differently and lose weight.
You can save money and build wealth.
You can be a valuable person.
You can take up healthy habits.
And why is it so darned difficult to stick to new habits when the old habits are so easy to do!
Habits are easy to change but tough to maintain. That’s a reality. And another fact is that the new reality will eventually become NORMAL.
The brain is comprised of billions of neural highways. These highways carry information that zip through the brain at incredible speeds.
Any single behavior is wired like the cables that bring the signal from the cable box or satellite dish to your outlets that you plug your TV/DVR into. For one moment think about that cabling from the cable box up by the street that runs into your home and directly to your TV.
That is very similar to how ALL of your current & old habits are wired.
If you want to change how you get your TV programming from Cable to Satellite you need to bring in the provider, have them put up a satellite dish on your house, plunk down cabling from the dish into your house, through walls/floors and into the jacks you plug your TV into.
Once the new wiring is plugged in, the old wiring all remains in place.It is simply not used. And it cannot be used or it won’t erode with time.
Sure enough, the wiring remains in place in the brain when you switch to your new satellite in the brain, but, it is EXTREMELY easy to access the use of the old wiring.
The highways in the brain that have current habits are all superhighways. They are wide. They are fast. They are like magnets for holding habits in place.
How Does This Work in Real Life?
You’re going to drive your kids to school.
Your behaviors are laid out in the virtual map of the brain in sequences.
You wake the kids up.
You get breakfast started.
They come eat.
They get their stuff.
You start the car.
They get in.
You get in.
You drive the same route to school you take every single day.
Each day you say the same words, “goodbye, have a good day, I love you.”
What happens when things happen out of sequence?
You might miss your exit.
Remember that feeling?
You may not remember where or how it happened but you missed it because you left your habitual behavior.
So the brain has given you golden opportunities to acquire new habits and has left you with the ability to instantly go back to how you were.
Ultimately this is all good news.
What does this mean for your new habit?
Disruptions Temporarily Stop Good & Bad Habits
Let’s go back to the kids in the car on the way to school…
This metaphor needs to stick in your unconscious mind…forever.
Today the kids give you their usual departing good-byes then take their backpacks and, in their most cool behavior possible, walk up to the building.
You have no idea what happens next, but they do precisely the same thing they do every single day and now you will do the same…you will head back to the house and begin your day.
That’s the old wiring. It’s been laid down and perfectly paved for years. It works every time.
Tomorrow, road construction begins half way down the road to school and it takes you several miles out of the way.
This is a major disruption because now everything changes.
Beginning tomorrow your brain lives a new life. Now, you’ll be using some of the old wiring in the brain…and you’ll need some new wiring.
You have to figure traffic will be delayed.
You have to figure there will be more cars whose drivers have no idea where they are going.
There will be detour signs, construction workers with STOP signs they will dutifully hold up.
You’ll need to get up earlier.
You’ll need to get the kids up earlier.
The disruption stopped your habit. This is neither good nor bad. It is simply how the world works. You quickly adjust to meet your outcome.
Establishing a New Route
Many things remain the same. The sequence of events will be very similar, but the timing will be off. Even a 5 minute difference in waking up is very strange to everyone involved. It becomes a stressful morning.
In the past you’ve associated pain with starting new habits.
What you didn’t realize was that you associate pain with ALL the habits you will break whether by your choice or by the fate of government road construction.
Everyone gets in the car. You arrive at the beginning of the detour, but your brain looks beyond the sign, seeing that no road construction has really begun. You wonder if you should just go through and see if you can get to school. If you were by yourself, you might. You have the kids, so you won’t. But the “temptation” was there. You take the road construction. You are irritated. You wonder why they have blocked miles of road for a total of 4 guys on a crew. Makes no sense.
You finally arrive, drop the kids off and then return home via the confusing and stressful detour.
You did it.
You established a modified behavior. You created a new habit!
This one is pretty easy because it uses a lot of the same cabling that is already set up in the brain. (You wake up the same kids, cook the same food, drive the same car, take a number of roads you are familiar with and ultimately drop the kids off and return to the house.) But the timing is off. The drive is NOT familiar. It’s certainly uncomfortable and stress levels are increased.
The Deeply Ingrained Habit
Today, you begin your diet. You are going to lose 20 pounds. That’s more than two gallons of milk. 9 kilos. That’s a LOT of weight to lose. But you can’t simply cut it off the body.
You have to “burn it off.”
And the only way to do that is to reduce calorie intake and increase physical and mental activity. Various strategies help make the process “easier” like going to bed earlier and sleeping longer. Less time to eat is more time to lose weight. There are a few other things you’ll need to do. We’ll come to those in a minute.
Here’s a simple fact about all habits.
More than one variable goes into habit change. Typically the variables are misunderstood and this inability to know which variables matter MOST is what causes the majority of attempts at habit change to fail.
The first thing people think of is “join a gym.” Could be a great idea but you can’t out exercise your diet. In other words almost no one can do enough exercise to overcome their calorie intake.
Fewer calories taken in is ultimately the answer here. There’s more to it than that but just know this for the moment.
For X decades, your body has been wired to perform the same behaviors as they relate to food intake.
And now you are going to change.
In the past, you get hungry, you eat an X.
Now, you get hungry, you either don’t eat, or you get a glass of water, distract yourself, get something different to eat or you eat less of what it was you ate before.
It is stressful.
And it is no fun.
There are details that must be met to make this whole habit change thing work.
How do you make it easy(ier)
While you are in the process of habit change, the slow as you go results are only minimally rewarding compared to the output of energy required to lose the weight.
You’ve made a big change. Your body for months or years has been eating X amount of calories per day and now you are going to reduce that number. What makes it more difficult?
You might be shifting away from certain kinds of foods and moving toward others. That’s not just a calorie reduction, it is a complete second process. Shifting away from two types of foods? That brings you up to three processes. That’s a lot of processes to change.
And here is a secret.
The more processes you attempt to change over a period of time, the more difficult your outcomes become. So have a hierarchy of shifts or changes you wish to make and then focus on the top one or two.
There are numerous reasons this is critical.
Yes it is important to focus on what matters most. But remember that none of these behavioral shifts occur in a vacuum!
In your environment there are always people who are able to, for example, eat as much as you do and stay thing. Or they exercise very little and remain in excellent physical condition.
It can be very frustrating when you have to really work for what comes easily to someone else that you are exposed to.
You’re going to lose 1 pound per week. 20 weeks. That’s January through April. You can do it faster. You could lose two pounds per week. It doesn’t matter THAT much.
You’ll look much better, but you are going to be no fun to be around from January through April because your body is hungry, you are stressed, your body is angry with you for not feeding it what it is familiar and comfortable with. You become difficult to live with because your body is now TRYING to run your brain and is brushing up against your mind (prefrontal) and your brain is not something that likes to lose. It wants food. Lots of food. All that is available, if possible.
Meanwhile, you decide to eat less by 500 calories per day which buys you your pound per week. 500 calories is a sloppy peanut butter sandwich or five cookies, or 4 soft drinks or two candy bars. These are the things your brain likes. They are the first things most people look to when it comes to weight loss, and with good reason.
But…consider other foods you at as well. If you remove your favorite foods that is essentially the same as punishing yourself.
Sticking with the weight loss example, you might want to remove other foods that may not be great for you as well. Instead, for example, each day you remove 2 soft drinks and two slices of cheese.
There’s yet another reason to remove all of the foods containing sugar (for example) from your daily intake.
Sugar is important to body function. You need the right amounts of glucose in your body. This is different from person to person. Anyone who tells you otherwise is incorrect. Glucose helps the brain be “happy”, and gives the body the Self Regulation Units it needs to build a business, get work done, be calm in the face of a body that is not happy with you.
So here is the paradox.
You’re cutting a lot of that glucose (sugary stuff) out and, of course, you WILL be HEALTHIER because of it. You simply won’t be HAPPIER, at least not in the process.
In fact, you’ll be a bit short-tempered at times. You’ll snap more often than you normally do. You won’t have the Self Regulation Units you need to complete your day each day without acting like an idiot.
All of these things cause additional stress. Lots of it.
But stress doesn’t end at stress. It continues into your daily communication with other humans. And those conversations tax and deplete your reserves. Adding energy to the body to fight off the urge to say, argue or fight with someone.
Then of course this leads to the unconscious behavior of grabbing 500 quick calories somewhere to keep you closer to an even keel. Those calories, typically carbohydrates are “turned into” (among other things) serotonin which causes the brain to be less “depressed.”
As you can see, habits become habits and stay habits for more than just the reason of the HABIT!
Habits are intertwined into your relationships, the internet going down and all kinds of other daily challenges.
The Body Wants What It Wants
When the body falls under stress, it knows precisely what to do.
Put glucose in the body.
Except you can’t really do that all the time or you end up in a bad place.
Your body is ticked off.
Your mind is taxed and you are overwhelmed.
Lower glucose levels on average = Longer life = Less happy body short term = Less happy short term
Will that equation change over time?
We’ll talk about that later on.
You are now having a long term disagreement with your body.
Your body/brain has a very well-used superhighway to be used for all tasks related to food acquisition and consumption. Those highways are magnets for behaviors that bring food into your mouth.
And now you are depriving your body/brain about 1/4 of it’s daily intake & fuel. That doesn’t seem like a lot but it really is a lot.
Imagine if you could only watch 3/4 of your favorite TV show.
You have stolen from your body/brain and your body/brain is going to want to punish you, so be prepared.
You establish some different eating habits. Not all that you do is going to be different but lots of them are different.
It appears that making new habits real is no instantly easy task! And all of those TV shows said this was “easy!”
Losing weight (this habit we are working with as an example) is reshaping your body AND BRAIN. Your current body doesn’t “want” to be reshaped. It wants to be as it always has been.
Losing weight isn’t the most difficult new habit to acquire, but it is in the top ten!
What has to happen to cause this disagreement to change a habit to be won by the right side?
4 steps to making habit change stick
What has to happen for a change of habit to stick?
- You lay down a new set of behaviors by creating new paths in the brain. These aren’t superhighways…these are crummy little back road paths.This is where you begin. You blaze a new trail. You pull your machete out and start whacking at the brush so you can make your way. Once the path is laid, you can begin the process that eventually leads to paving it into a road. With plenty of use, it will eventually become a superhighway.The old highway? It’s not going to be used, but it’s a super highway. It’s not going anywhere any time soon. Your mind will be directing and detouring ALL traffic to the new back road for months or years to come. Eventually, the new road will become a highway, then a multi-lane super highway like the old highway. At this point, the brain will be fine taking either highway by DEFAULT. But this won’t happen until it is EASIER to take the new highway than the old.
- You’ll need conscious mind triggers to keep yourself on task all day, every day. Your body WILL easily win the war if you don’t do this. You MUST have notes and triggers around the house and office to keep you eating precisely as you plan.
- Immediately before you place food in your mouth you will write down how many calories it contains. You will estimate and you will ALWAYS over estimate. In about one week, you’ll have this part down. If you don’t have a pen and post it note to write the number down, you don’t put anything in your mouth until you do.
- Self Regulation Units typically become depleted by evening. I read a paper that disputed this notion. It was wrong. You’ll need to “save” plenty of calories for the evening or you will lose the battle.You don’t want to try and eat all of your calories at night, simply balance the intake during the day. You can extend an olive branch to your brain each night at bedtime by eating something sweet if that is your weakness. Perhaps the final 100 calories. When you first see how tiny 100 calories really is, you’ll be unsettled. You’ll get used to it. The glucose at night will help your brain feel it doesn’t have to go to war at night. It will take in the calories and allow you to feel a little more content as you head to bed.
The reshaping process has begun. You have successfully started not just the habit of losing weight, but numerous new habits all being utilized side by side in your effort.
At the end of day one it is unlikely you’ll have any new neural structure laid down. Day two will be just as hard as day one was. This is true for the first 4 – 7 days at which point the back road path starts to take shape in the brain. At this point things become a bit easier.
How Long Until the New Habit is Firmly Rooted?
But it doesn’t take 4 – 7 days to create a habit. It takes 4 – 7 days to lay down the path in the brain. That’s the BEGINNING of the habit.
It will take a couple of months to really clear those new pathways in the brain to the point they become a reasonably acceptable alternate route for the brain to take. The brain will continue to resist but it won’t be as passionate in it’s resistance.
Next week you’ll see examples of how to use similar patterns in creating all sorts of new habits. You’ll also find out when you’ll break your new habit and return to the old. You’ll find out how to predict whether you will succeed or fail. You’ll also learn how to figure out what to do in a step by step fashion to generate any habit you wish.
And I promise it will work and it will not be as easy as it sounds.
Reserve your spot now!
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