The human brain is hardwired to seek out pleasure and to avoid pain.
If we currently associate healthy living with deprivation, frustration and hard work, then a significant part of our brain is going to be subconsciously trying to avoid healthy living choices.
If we currently associate unhealthy food with relief, satisfaction and indulgence, then parts of our brain are going to be urging us to make unhealthy choices.
If we’re going to make lasting changes in our lives, we need to change the associations that we have with healthy living.
Our current associations ensure the sub-conscious elements of our brains are working against our conscious decisions! We need to ensure all parts of our brains are fighting for the same side if we are going to create lasting change in our lives.
The human brain has evolved to put more value to the short term benefits than the long term benefits.
This made a lot of sense in dangers of the savannah thousands of years ago when a bad short term decision could mean we became lunch rather than we ate lunch. But this evolutionary trait we have inherited can be a disadvantage in the modern world.
Short term benefits are immediate, they are right in your face and you can’t miss them.
Our early ancestors grabbed whatever calories they could, whenever they could because the future consumption was so uncertain. Humans have developed to value long term benefits much less. Long term benefits seem like something distant on the horizon that we can barely make out.
Long term benefits are vague and not readily obvious.
If you eat a bar of chocolate now, there is no real immediate impact. One chocolate bar is not going to affect your weight. But one chocolate bar per week is 52 chocolate bars a year. One chocolate bar per day is 365 chocolate bars a year. Now we’re really starting to influence weight, but this isn’t readily obvious when we make the decision whether to eat the chocolate bar that is in our hand right now!
We need to make the association of the positive benefits of losing weight and negative results of not losing weight to each and every health decision we make.
We need to use associations of the long term benefits as a high power telescope to bring the long term into clear and magnified focus.
So how do we do that?
We start by making a list.
Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and write “Pleasure” on one column and “Pain” on the other. You’ve already decided you want to lose weight, now let’s list out all of the positive things you will get from losing weight.
You might want more energy, better mobility, improved self-esteem or whatever else is important to you. Write them all down in the “Pleasure” column. Now list out all the things related to your current state that cause you pain. I’m not going to suggest any negative feelings here for fear of creating those feelings in you. But I think most of us can identify the negative feelings we experience when we think about the effect being overweight has on us. Whatever you come up with, write them down in the “Pain” column.
Now you have your list, you need to keep the items on that list in the front of your mind.
You need to be so aware of the items on your list that every time you come to a healthy living decision, you automatically associate each of the options with one side of the list. The decision to eat that brownie should create the pain of the negative associations you’ve identified as a result of being overweight. Eating a healthy meal or going for a walk should create the pleasure you’ve associated with the benefits of losing weight.
The items on your list need to become so familiar to you that your brain can easily access them every time a healthy living decision is made.
Put your list near your bed so you can review it first thing when you get up and last thing before you go to bed. Reviewing your list first thing in the morning sets you up for the day and staves off the danger of a bad start to the day. Reviewing your list just before lights out gives your subconscious the task of meditating on how you can get the things you associate with pleasure and how you can avoid the things you associate with pain.
Unless we are consciously on guard, twisted and mutated negative thoughts can slither over the walls of our minds and sabotage our precious progress.
We need to stand vigil, actively guarding the walls of our mind against these negative thoughts. We need to develop our own personal sayings that reflect a positive thought or belief. We might come up with “I love eating healthy foods because every day my body is leaner and stronger and I am happier and more energetic.” Or “Every minute I walk improves the time I spend with my children and I would walk a thousand kilometres for my children”.
Whatever you come up with, you can use these sayings to slay the negative thoughts.
You need to identify the negative thoughts that plague you so you can immediately slay them with a saying when they try to climb the walls of your mind. By thinking or repeating one of your sayings you destroy the negative thoughts. Our sayings are arrows that we shoot into the bellies of negative thoughts as they slink up the walls of our minds. We need to protect our precious progress against these twisted and mutated thoughts, casting them back to where they came by thinking or repeating one of our sayings.
Motivating material can also be an effective tool to keep us on track for lasting change.
There are excellent motivation books to keep our minds in the right place but we mums don’t often have time to sit down and read. A more usable source are audio programs, videos, or blogs. I often use YouTube videos on the lowest quality settings when I am on a walk or even doing housework. For most of these videos, the content is all in what is being said so you don’t really have to watch the video as it plays. Search for "Motivational Tips" or "Motivation" on Youtube.
Music can be especially motivating for movement.
If I’m feeling uninspired to go for a walk, I like to put on some of my favourite beats and I soon find I’m out the door with a spring in my step and a wiggle in my walk.
We can’t rely on motivation alone if we want to lose weight.
Motivation comes and goes. It is far too fickle of a friend and it gets quickly pushed out of the way by the relentless and unwavering onslaught of our associations. To battle against our mental associations, we need a better strategy. We need to change our mental associations with weight loss, healthy eating and lifestyle.
With a bit of work, we can convince the other parts of our brain to join us in the fight to become healthy. When all parts of our mind is united on our one goal, we become unstoppable!!