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

New Years Resolutions-Do they work?

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Model Katie Lee holds a kettle bell pondering her New years Resolution.

Model Katie Lee holds a kettle bell   and ponders her New Year’s resolutions. Health and Fitness Specialist Connie Aronson recommends that those who wish to keep their resolutions ” wait 10 minutes” or ” write themselves a letter.” Courtesy photo of Connie Aronson.

Every year, 45% of Americans make a New Year’s Resolution, an earnest promise to be better or try harder. Call them the agents of change, as theses people are ten times more likely to attain their goals.
Last year, according to a University of Scranton study, losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more were the top three resolutions. Maybe the bravery of setting new goals is just too overwhelming for the rest of us. After all, change is hard.

The good news is that you don’t need a new diet or self-help book, or just plain will power. Science shows that our bodies and brains need to get on board together. We need to understand why we aren’t already doing the particular things we need to do for change to occur.

We all struggle with temptation, addictions, distractions, excuses, and procrastination. Overeating chocolate mint brittle all week long doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Our struggles are universal experiences and part of the human condition. “Our human nature,” writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in The Willpower Instinct, “includes both the self that wants instant gratification and the self with a higher purpose.”

Dr. McGonigal describes our struggles with temptation and procrastination from research published in 2007 involving some chimpanzees and humans. The humans were students from Harvard and the chimps from the prestigious Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Center in Leipzig. The challenge was to delay the gratification of an immediate snack for more food. The temptation: Grapes for the chimps, and raisins, popcorn, M&M’s and Goldfish crackers for the humans.

First, they could all choose between 2 or 6 treats, which was easy, as both humans and chimps agreed that six was better than two. Then each competitor was given the choice to eat two treats immediately, or wait two minutes for six. When they had to wait for the treat, the patient chimps won out: an impressive 72% of the time, yet the students waited only 19% of the time.

Blame it on how humans rationalize. We have all sorts of mental tricks thanks to our prefrontal cortex’s ability to rationalize bad decisions and promise we’ll be better tomorrow.

“We’re rational until we aren’t,” Dr. McGonigal writes. The same goes for when the short-term reward is staring at us in the face: we want it now. Immediate gratification.

Try either of these following tips for success in reaching your goals in 2014:

Wait ten minutes

The brain’s reward system doesn’t care about the future.

Staring at M&M’s triggers the older, more primitive reward system of dopamine driven desire, when food for survival was the reward system’s original target. But temptation has a narrow window of opportunity.

As a waitress, management taught us that dessert sales were lost if you didn’t get to the table as soon as dinner plates were removed. When temptation is visible, the warm cobbler going to the next table for example, the prefrontal cortex is really overwhelmed. If you have to wait for your waiter, or distance yourself between you and the temptation, the balance of power goes back to the brain’s system of control.

The same is true for your own trigger: put them out of sight.

Write yourself a letter

“Imagine looking back at 2014, from a place of having achieved your most important goal for the year,” Dr. McGonigal writes in “Five Things You Can Do Instead of New Year’s Resolutions.” “In your letter, thank your present self for all you did to achieve your goals—and be specific. Or give yourself some compassionate advice from your wiser, 2015 self. Research shows that connecting to your future self in this way can help you make a difficult change and succeed at your goals.”

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.

 

Willpower-know what you really want

Willpower is an instinct everyone has, yet it consists of much more than simply saying “I will’, or “I won’t”. As we move into the third week of the New Year, some of the lofty goals and self-control have vaporized. Don’t despair though;   self-control is only one part of willpower. The ability to remember what you REALLY want, (get out of debt, fit into your clothes, more sleep) is the ability to say “yes” to that particular goal. This is what Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., psychology  lecturer  at Stanford University, whose course, The Science of Willpower, teaches and  which her new book is based on. “To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. This is the “I want” power, she writes.

Now Strategies

A student in Dr. McGonigal’s class, a producer, was an e-mail addict. Her behavior disrupted not only her work, but annoyed her boyfriend. The student described her email impulses almost as an itch-she just had to check her email. She was always tense. Her assignment was to catch herself before she reached for her phone. With time, she realized that her impulses had nothing to do with seeking information and was doing nothing to relieve her tension. As she began to notice how she gave in to her impulses, it gave her new control over her behavior. Catch yourself  falling  for your impulses earlier  in the process, and  notice which thoughts or situations might make it more likely that you will give in to your impulses, are strategies that McGonigal  teaches.

Stressed and Sleepless: The Enemies of Willpower

Willpower is essentially a mental muscle, but the body also needs to get onboard. The best intentions in the world can be sabotaged if you are sleep-depraved, stressed, sedentary, have a poor diet, or a host of other factors that sap your energy. Stress is the worst enemy of willpower, McGonigal writes. The  American Psychological Association shows  that 75% of Americans have high levels of stress and 76% of Americans want to improve the quality and quantity of the sleep they get. New evidence shows that poor sleep and stress contribute to poor self-control and focus. How can you harness positive willpower if you are exhausted? Inadequate sleep also contributes to weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, and lowered immunity. Globally, sleep deprivation affects the quality of life of 45% of the world’s population, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine.

A Willpower Workout

( from The Willpower Instinct. How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of it -by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.)

  • Strengthen “I won’t” Power; Commit to not swearing (or refraining from any habit of speech)
  • Strengthen ‘I will” Power: Commit to doing something everyday that you don’t already do just for the practice of building a habit and not making excuses. It could be meditating for five minutes, or finding one thing in your house that needs to be thrown out or recycled.
  • Strengthen Self-Monitoring: Formally keep track of something you don’t usually pay close   attention to. This could be your spending, what you eat, or how much time you spend online or watching TV. You don’t need fancy technology-just a pen and paper.

Above all, believe in yourself and keep your dreams alive in 2012!