Have you ever started a diet or exercise program but didn’t stick with it? If you’re like millions of other people, you’ve set out with the best intentions but failed to keep the momentum going. Here’s why relying on motivation and willpower doesn’t work (and what works instead).
When you begin any new self-improvement program, your enthusiasm is high and you’re motivated by the pleasure of what you want or the pain of what you don’t want. But motivation naturally diminishes with time.
When your motivation wanes, you rely more on willpower. But no one has an endless supply of willpower. It’s a resource that gets “used up.” Every time you will yourself to do something that you don’t really want to do, you use up some willpower. It’s as if every temptation you pass up depletes your willpower reserve. By evening, you may find you have no willpower left. That’s why most people blow their diet in the evening after eating healthy all day. If motivation and willpower aren’t working for you, there’s another way!
95 per cent of our life is dictated by the subconscious mind, the part of our brain that runs our lives on autopilot. This is why you can do everything from brushing your teeth to driving a car without thinking about it. By consciously deciding to create a new habit, you can harness the power of your unconscious to create a new neural pathway. Once a new habit is established it becomes easy to do — motivation and willpower are no longer required.
Here are seven steps to turn any desired new activity into a habit. Once a habit is established, you’ll find yourself doing it effortlessly. These techniques can be used for any habit you want to make or change — diet, exercise, meditation, stress reduction, sleep habits, etc.
Set Small Goals
Setting big goals is exciting but starting with small, boring goals is more likely to lead to success. A small goal, for example, would be to meditate for 10 minutes, or replace one unhealthy snack with raw veggies, or walk 15 minutes per day. Taking small actions tricks your brain. Your subconscious likes to be in control — it doesn’t like change. A big change often sets up subconscious resistance, but you can sneak a small change by it.
A trigger is something that leads you to automatically doing something else. Many smokers, for example, are often triggered to smoke after a meal. Use triggers to your advantage. If you commit to always meditating after breakfast, then after a few weeks you’ll automatically think about meditating after your morning meal. Visual triggers work well, too. Laying your workout clothes on the bed in the morning will encourage you to work out when you get home from work.
Do It Early
Exercise or meditate in the morning when your willpower is high, and you’ll reap the rewards all day. Make a healthy dinner ahead of time (I love my crockpot!) so you don’t come home starving, with nothing to eat.
Make sure you have everything you need to ensure your success. If you want to start a walking program, get comfortable walking shoes and a pedometer. (People who wear a pedometer walk 27% more than those who don’t.)
Make it Convenient
The more difficult and time consuming it is to take an action, the less likely you will do it. This is why so many people who buy gym memberships drop out — it’s just not that convenient. Get everything you need ready ahead of schedule so that when it is time to take action, you can, as Nike says, “Just Do It.”
Make it Fun
If you don’t enjoy doing something, you aren’t going to stick with it. Find ways to make your lifestyle change as enjoyable as possible. Exercise with a friend, learn to cook healthy foods that are delicious, or find a meditation program that really resonates with you.
Don’t Break the Chain
When Jerry Seinfeld was an unknown, he created the habit of writing new material daily using a wall calendar and a red marker. Every day that he managed to write, he would put a big red “X” on the calendar. He didn’t want to see any blank days that “broke the chain.” Use this technique for one month and you’ll find your new habit will largely be formed.
By using these steps to create a habit, you’re tricking your brain into creating a new neural pathway. Once the habit is formed, you can use it to serve as a gateway to bigger changes that can truly change your life. A journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step.
How to Trick Your Brain to Create a New Healthy Habit [Pick the Brain]
Deane Alban is co-founder of BeBrainFit.com and author of Brain Gold: The Anti-Alzheimer’s, Anti-Aging Guide for Your Brain. She has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her passion is teaching others how to rejuvenate their brains and overcome the common, but avoidable, problem of midlife mental decline.