Training your brain to maintain a healthy lifestyle
Habits are deeply rooted in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This is the equivalent of an “autopilot” in your brain. For example, in the morning, you lock the door to your house, get in your car, put it into reverse, are aware of obstacles, and may even be simultaneously talking to your kids. And you haven’t given these actions any thought. That’s because the brain gets “trained” to do the things we do on a habitual basis. Once we establish habitual behaviors, the brain doesn’t need to work as hard, so it doesn’t, and we fall into patterns that may or may not be healthy.
The good news is you can retrain your brain and turn bad habits into good ones. It takes 60 to 90 days to make a new habit, and once you pass that milestone, your new habit is going to stick. You do have to keep after it. The brain will take repetition as the message that says, “Oh, I get it. We are going to do this now,” and it goes into autopilot. Even getting up for a morning run will become habitual after this time period. Researchers think we have more unhealthy habits as a society because they usually lead to instant gratification (e.g., having a cookie and milk before bedtime or taking a quick cigarette break). Keep in mind that a healthy habit may delay gratification, but there is a much bigger reward in the end.
Here are some tips to get started:
- Create small goals out of your larger goal. If you’re someone who sits down to a bag of chips at night, reduce the bag size to a snack size and slowly whittle that down.
- Replace a bad habit with a good one. Once you’re down to a handful of chips, replace that with a sliced apple.
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a setback. Simply go back to the learned healthy behavior and stay positive.
Remember, this is all about “tricking” the brain. You’re the boss. You can do it!
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
Debi Conocenti has been keeping people fit and healthy for more than 20 years. A developer of corporate health, fitness, and wellness programs, she stays active with her two sons and English sheepdogs.
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