1) Biting my nails.
2) Eating when I’m sad, or bored…
3) Napping in the day.
4) Being reliant on caffeine (and spending a lot of money to feed my addiction)
5) Eating dinner on the go (and eating it very. very fast.)
I could go on…
Today I want to talk about habits. Good habits, bad habits, we all have them and they can be hard to get in to and even harder to get out of. Inspired by HFE’s blog (which you should definitely go and check out!) I thought I would chat a bit about habits and how they can help and hinder your fitness and wellbeing.
Habits are a lot more than just biting your nails or smoking. In fact, habits make up a lot of our day to day behaviour, whether we know it or not. It is estimated that between 40-45% of what we get up to in the day in governed by habits. These actions are subconscious a lot of the time, however, they can still have a huge impact upon our lives and whether we are achieving our goals. As someone who does a history degree with a very postmodern set of lecturers, this idea of being driven by habits is not something that surprises me. However, it is more difficult when I consider what I do in my day to day life that is actually down to habit.
I had to refer to HFE for some help here.
Basically, habit formation is related to something called classical conditioning, which basically means we learn certain actions due to association. Let’s take the example of getting up early. You get up early, you are more productive, you feel accomplished. Therefore, you associate getting up early with a feeling of accomplishment. On the flip side, you get up early you feel tired and grumpy and then get told off at work for falling to sleep at you desk. Getting up early is unlikely to form a habit in this scenario. Essentially, we are all just looking for positive reinforcement to justify our actions. When we get this positive reinforcement, we form a habit.
So let us now apply this to eating. You’re bored. You’re mardy. You want that Ben and Jerry’s that has been sat in your freezer for a week. You eat the whole tub. You feel happy. What has happened during this process is your brain (your prefrontal cortex to be all precise and clever) has calculated that that tub of cookie dough ice cream… You know, the one with the caramel core and the little gobs of raw cookie dough heaven, that one… that is going to make you happy. It made a decision and sent a signal to another area in your brain associated with goal-driven behaviour known as the striatum, and this then sent a signal to your motor cortex; leading you grabbing that spoon and shoving a pint of ice cream down your throat. Dopamine floods your striatum and you feel good. But only in the short term. Ice cream makes me happy when I am eating it but afterwards I feel guilty and rubbish about myself. So why then can I not resit?
Well, it is because I feel sad. I am mardy that I ate the ice cream and what does my brain know will make me feel better? Ice cream. It worked before so my brain is pretty confident it will work again. This results in a cycle that is hard to break out of. Essentially, good or bad, a habit comes from your brain taking choice away from you. Cravings are a lot stronger than the part of the brain that fights against them and so the chances are you’re going to go for that spoon again.
All sounds pretty morbid, right. How do you break out of this delicious but not exactly healthy cycle? I am pleased to say that there is good news. You’re not actually craving ice cream. Your prefrontal cortex couldn’t care less about that delicious salted caramel core or that perfect combination of chocolate and vanilla. Nope. All it wants it to be happy. Aw, bless. It wants to feel good factor of the ice cream. It’s kind of like it’s in a turbulent relationship with Ben and Jerry. It doesn’t want them, it just wants how they make it feel. And there are plenty more hunks out there that can bring it happiness. All it needs to do is get out there, have a few porn star martinis and find someone new. Basically, break out of the unhealthy relationship and find your prefrontal cortex something that is going to make it feel good and also make the rest of your body feel good. Find something that is going to make you happy. You do not need the food no matter how much your brain tells you you do.
I know this is hard, believe me, I am the first person to grab that spoon. However, it is definitely interesting and maybe next time I go to eat a biscuit or 7 I’ll think a bit more about what my brain is really asking for.
I started this blog with some of my bad habits, however, I also have some good ones. Habits can be really positive and help us to achieve our goals and stay motivated. I will leave you on some of my good habits, you know, just to make myself feel a little better…
1) Going to the gym at least 4 times a week.
2) Getting up early during the week.
3) Drinking lots of water.
4) Taking my make up off every night (its the little things)
5) Keeping a blog.