HUMAN!!! We all have our struggles, triumphs, highs, and lows.
When it comes to trying to keep a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising enough to satisfy the guidelines, it can be a constant struggle.
Why does it have to be so hard? Even those of us who make healthy eating and exercise a habit have to be vigilant. There is always something coming along that can easily derail us. This can be things like injuries or illness, unplanned circumstances (COVID anyone?), or even just a sudden desire to hang out instead of getting out for some exercise.
Here’s where a little awareness of how our brains work can be helpful. Instead of wondering why we sometimes can’t stick with it, we can take a look at how we are wired, for better or worse. NOTE: for whatever reason, this does not apply to that small group of people who are explorers, risk takers, and adrenalin seekers. The tendencies listed below are for the rest of us.
Here we go.
Starting from the not-so-good news to the better news.
- We like comfort. Given the choice, many of us will shy away from challenges. We like the comfort zone that we have created for ourselves. The familiar, the convenient, the reliable. We are reluctant to embrace something that may be uncomfortable, either psychologically or physically. Comfort reduces stress, anxiety, fear, and negativity.
- We don’t like change. Our brains don’t like it. Changing the way we think, respond emotionally, and behave requires effort. Our bodies and brains often like to conserve energy instead.
- Paradoxically, we are also built to like novelty. This is not to be confused with wanting to change! We like things that are new and different, that interest us for a while, and then we move on to the next thing. Could this be why some of us are always looking for the next diet or exercise fad?
- However, research has shown that our brains are plastic. Meaning, when we use them for new endeavors, new pathways are built, enabling us to embrace a desired new area of expertise or coveted goal. It should be noted, as above, that this requires effort, a strategy, and a fairly long time.
Let’s get to a few take-homes here:
Awareness of our tendencies can help us not listen to them! We can even develop a mantra, something like “there it is again…” Or, “I am going to do the healthier thing anyway because I know it will make me feel better.”
As indicated in #4 above, our brains are built to adapt. That means that the habits we do the most are the ones that will stick. Health and fitness habits actually get easier to continue the further along you get. How long? It’s probably different for each person. The answer is the dreaded, “it depends.”
Truth is, our brains and our bodies do adapt. Along the way, if we can be aware of the pull to stay as we are it will help put things into perspective. Then we can develop a strategy to acquire new habits, slowly, over time. Kind of like the old joke.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.