How to propel your unlikely habits
Among the day-to-day dramas of life, we can’t always find ‘simple’ upfront. Ironically, simple takes effort, mixed with slowing down and, metaphorically speaking, a peeling of layers off the self. Often, when we look back it was there all along, either hidden among the chaos or we just didn’t have the right lens. Simplicity is funny like that — sometimes elusive, but almost always present. Sometimes you just need to know where to look for it — or how to look for it.
As we turn toward understanding our crazy habits around wellbeing, it’s often hard to fully commit to or sustain simple, lifelong positive behaviours. Between work, family life, social commitments, and daily demands, we live on autopilot without the necessary energy or motivation to reach these goals.
Neuroscientists have shown that 95 per cent of our daily choices are made unconsciously, meaning that only 5 per cent of our conscious mind is being used to make decisions in line with the thing we want to achieve. So the subconscious mind (repetitive behaviours, thoughts, ways of being) acts out of repetitiveness simply through doing what it knows best, not necessarily doing what is best.
Because we easily fall back into old habits, comfortable behaviours, and old ways of being, change can seem difficult sometimes and require far too much time and energy. But here’s the good news. It is possible to change our hardwired neurological patterns so they are in line with all the wonderful things we want to achieve.
Our ‘thinking’ mind is what allows us to dream and create. It’s our thinking mind that tells us we can be better, do better, achieve more, create more — it’s that exact thinking mind that needs to be worked and flexed to help you achieve your goals. Here are five strategies that may help you to create a shift.
Five ways to retrain your mind
Understand you are not your thoughts: Thoughts that you think are just that: thoughts. They have no meaning; rather, only the meaning we give to them. Try recording a thought journal for a week. It’s impossible to change thoughts if you don’t know what thoughts you want to change. You may identify thoughts or unwanted thought patterns (a sequence of thoughts — for example, I will never lose weight; that’s why I’m a failure and can never achieve my goals). The less you flex a muscle the weaker it gets, so think of your unwanted thoughts/thought patterns as a muscle. The less you think something or think about something, the less meaning it has, the more probability it will weaken. When the thought/thought pattern emerges, stop the process in its tracks and try your best not to give it meaning or further energy. Stop the process of completing the thought, and repeat this often and daily.
Create space for other thoughts: It becomes easier to create change when you’re not spending your resources on thinking about useless information. Create a space in your mind to challenge old ways of thinking and being. Giving precious energy to unwanted thought patterns leaves nothing for creativity and new ways of being, so change can be difficult.
Become conscious of the unconscious: Often, we form destructive repetitive behaviour loops that leave us feeling stuck. Daily, without even realising it, we repeat a series of steps ending in unwanted outcomes. Think of a health and fitness goal you would like to achieve that has eluded you. Now think about the tasks that are needed and how you might go about doing them. Write down what has stopped you from achieving the goal (honestly, without excuses). Now, record your thoughts, feelings, and external influences that have arisen time and again that may have acted as roadblocks throughout this process. The purpose of this exercise is to identify repetitive ways of thinking, being, or acting that are not in line with your goal.
Shift your focus toward your external environment: Are there any specific times, days, people, or events that trigger unwanted ways of being that are not in line with your goal? Again, the purpose here is to understand what your triggers and conditioning are. Believe it or not, we can condition ourselves to do things and behave in unwanted ways just by being in a certain place or spending time with certain people (for example, social drinking or self-sabotage behaviours). Now that you have become conscious of the unconscious, what are you going to change? Detail this specifically, and make sure you keep it simple, but ensure to be clear on what you need to do differently. When the situation arises again, what will be different and what can you do differently next time?
Focus on your daily habits: While being inspired by your goal and result is great for motivation, it doesn’t always last. There is that little thing called life that can sometimes get in the way of doing all those wonderful things we promise ourselves. If we only relied on inspiration and motivation to get ourselves to our goal, how might that not be enough? How can we stay on track to achieve all the things we want to achieve? We need to focus on our daily habits and rituals — the process that makes up our goal. If you were required to only perform one or two rituals daily that were crucial to you achieving your goal, can you see how the act of repeating a daily habit would be more sustainable than just being motivated and inspired by the result of your goal. Ultimately, you are not only performing the rituals that need to be performed, but reinforcing neurological pathways in your brain equal to those daily habits and creating a new way of being.
By changing your identity, you are rewriting a new self, one that is in line with your values — and it’s this power, matched with confidence and momentum, that helps create the shift.
Karla Gilbert OAM is a former professional athlete and now helps individuals and corporates as a nutrition and health coach. For more information on her health coaching or eBook, Naked Habits, or healthy recipes visit www.karlagilbert.com.au