Handle your habits

You just come home from work. You aren’t particularly hungry, but there you are standing in front of the refrigerator.

Handle your habits

You’ve just come home from work. You aren’t particularly hungry, but there you are standing in front of the refrigerator. It’s as if unseen forces have led you there. Are you more likely to have a glass of water or go for the ice cream? What if you could see the ways in which you get caught in habitual responses, and learn to choose a fresh approach? What if that approach taught you how empowering every choice you make helps you grow?

Understanding habits can serve us really well, as they are fundamental to skill development. The good news is that your routines get things done. The brain, cites Frank Forencich in “Beautiful Practice,” is an incredibly powerful habit-forming organ. Every second of every day, he writes, our nervous system builds patterns of sensation and motor activity, always building on what came before, always seeking more efficient ways to process information into adaptive behavior. An easy action, choosing a glass of water over ice cream, creates a new and healthy behavior.

The habit loop

Habits work in a three-part loop of trigger, routine and a reward.

1. The first is the trigger that tells your brain which pattern to use. You are tired and see a pumpkin-spice triple latte advertisement. You are bored, and plop down on the couch with a remote.

2. The routine is the habit itself; you get in line at Starbuck’s. Or you’ve spent the last hour scrolling on Facebook.

3. The reward is what makes the habit persist. That could mean the boost of caffeine or a feeling like you finally get to relax after a busy day (which you deserve). To break the three-part loop means only changing one thing. You get to keep the reward, but you have to change your routine. Keep it very simple—a five-minute walk or a familiar slow stretch.

Scientists tell us that we are not one self, but multiple selves. There is a part of us that wants immediate gratification, and a part that wants to be our best self. Kelly McGonigal, psychology professor at Stanford and author of “The Willpower Instinct,” writes, “If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing—the power of paying attention. It’s training the mind to recognize when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot.”

3 Simple Things

Here are three simple steps from James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” that you can do right now:

1. Start with a habit that is so easy you can’t say no. Want to exercise more, but always tell yourself you don’t have time? Your goal is to exercise for one minute today. That could be 10 jumping jacks.

2. Take time to understand exactly what’s holding you back, so you can begin to finds ways to interrupt your knee-jerk responses.

3. Develop a plan for when you slip and get down on yourself. Replace the guilt, stress or shame with a motto. Clear suggests making this your motto: “Never miss (a workout, good night’s sleep) twice.”

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_e70e9be8-d8a4-11e8-a572-03310d489898.html

 

The Key to Behavior Change-Create Tiny Habits

 

Create tiny habits every day to reach your desired goal.

It’s a given that we cling to what we’re familiar with, and change is very hard. If only you could change your behavior, reach your big goal and lose that last 10 pounds.

There are multiple tales of accidents in the Himalayas when the warmth of the snow was so inviting to the victim that they simply wanted to stay resting where they were, comfortable in the snow. Getting up, and walking around shaking out their limbs to warm up would save their life, yet they don’t, and die there in the snow. We cling to what’s comfortable. Though I’m not suggesting camping out in your backyard to test your winter survival skills, you needn’t feel like you can’t change. For instance, if weight loss is your goal, you don’t have to just wish you had more willpower.

You aren’t alone in feeling like another trendy diet might be too hard to stick with, as research shows that fewer than 5 percent of dieters can keep weight off. Keep it simple. For long-term health behavior change, learning a skill, a new tactic, can help you succeed in your goals. Acquiring a new skill is a breakthrough as it becomes an action that creates change. And that action can be as simple as saying, “No dessert tonight,” rather than saying, “Stop eating sugar.” When you take that newly acquired skill and change it into a habit, you can gain an increased ability to change. What if you took tiny steps, and were able to build those steps into your life to meet your biggest challenges?

Shrink the problem

Don’t blame your willpower or motivation if you want to create new behaviors in your life. In many cases, you need a skill to fix things. B.J. Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford University, brilliantly describes this as a “skill scan.” The above-mentioned “stop eating sugar” is a principle, and ultimately not very helpful over time. Saying “No dessert tonight” is an action. Take four minutes to do the skill scan.

Step 1—Set a timer, and write down every skill you can think of that you might need to accomplish what you want. Let’s say the problem is fat loss, and you’ve listed eat less, move more, eat clean, stop eating sugar and go gluten-free.

Step 2—Take a colored pencil and cross off anything that you wrote that is not an action that can go on a calendar. On my fat-loss list, all of my skills are principles. These principles are a tall order to fit in the real world, especially during the holidays. If you wrote, for example, “Don’t have bread with dinner,” you now have a viable, simple action. No bread with dinner. Fogg’s approach eliminates guilt and feeling bad about why you don’t have enough willpower. Instead, this approach shrinks the problem, by giving you a new skill, which over time, becomes a desired habit.

Step 3—Write down your new habit that you want to build into your life. Fogg’s favorite example is to ask his students to floss just one tooth, a perfect example of building tiny habits into your daily life.

 Step 4—Celebrate your success in a healthy way. Be proud of your accomplishments, as change is as natural as our world is.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas filled with happiness, hope and joy!

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express, December 22, 2017

http://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_8c5e8a6a-e69b-11e7-915c-6bdb90b24b3e.html

Roots of Temptation-Just Say No?

Thanks to our brain’s complex pleasure/reward system, we all succumb to the pull of food differently. For some, the brain sometimes can’t resist the powerful influence of a fabulous bakery or a plate of French fries, yet others are able to eat a little and stop. But for millions of people, food is never far from their minds. Ever. The current trajectory of the number of obese Americans, along with related disease rates and health care costs, is on course to increase drastically in every state by 2030. The analysis findings, based on a model published last year in The Lancet, show that all 50 states could have obesity rates of more than 44 percent, with medical costs associated with treating preventable diseases soaring from $48 billion to $66 billion per year. By contrast though, according to a study released by Trust for American Health and the Robert Wood Foundation, reducing the average body mass index by just 5 percent could prevent an epidemic. For a 6-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds, a 5 percent reduction would be the equivalent of about 10 pounds. The good news is that scientists are learning more about the cue-urge-reward-habit cycle of the human brain, so that a 5 percent loss may be quite attainable without entirely giving up your favorite foods.

Neurons and Taste

For some people, certain foods seem to exert a magical pull, writes former Food & Drug Commissioner Dr. David Kessler in his book “The End of Overeating.” The food industry works hard to create high-calorie foods with the most addictive possible combination of intense flavor and “mouth-feel.” In his book, Kessler tells how neurons, the basic cells of the brain, are connected in circuits and communicate with one another to store information, create feelings and control behavior. Tasting tantalizing food stimulates the brain neurons that are part of the opioid circuitry, which is the body’s primary pleasure system. Known as endorphins, these brain chemicals have the same addictive and rewarding effects as morphine and heroin.

The Roots of Temptation

No matter how good the intentions, avoiding fattening foods is always a challenge, and biology is a factor in why it seems so difficult to bypass a bowl of M&Ms. Brain chemicals are in more regions than previously thought. Researchers have traced an unexpected area of the brain in rats that had primarily been linked to movement. This new evidence might help explain why chocolate can be so irresistible and why we binge. Published this week in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, the research team probed a brain region called the neostriatum, causing the rats to gorge on twice the amount of M&M chocolates than they would otherwise have eaten. The researchers found that a neurotransmitter called enkephalin, a drug-like chemical produced in that same region of the brain, surged as they ate more M&Ms. The chemicals increased their desire and impulses to eat more.

“That means the brain has more extensive systems to make people want to overcome rewards than previously thought,” said Alexandra DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan. “The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes.”

It’s likely that these neurotransmitters wire us for a little overconsumption and addiction. Understanding what triggers overeating and how our neural pathways can stump us can be useful the next time you walk down the potato chip aisle.  Five percent sounds like a good plan.