Dr Maxwell Maltz – maybe not a name you have heard of before, but this chap has a lot to answer for!
Maltz – a plastic surgeon-turned-psychologist – is the person responsible for the much touted belief that it only takes 21 days to form a habit. If only it were that easy!
I remember writing down a list of new habits that I wanted to create a few years ago – it was New Year…yes, I am a fairly predictable creature! Alongside these new habits were 21 little tick-boxes. Those 21 little tick-boxes made me feel a bit like a failure if I am being honest. Why was I still eating chocolate? Why was I not loving going to the gym every morning before work? Why did I not wake up looking forward to the glass of warm water with a drop of freshly squeezed lemon juice in it?
Let me tell you why…the 21 day thing is bollocks…it’s a total myth!
In 2010, researchers at UCL conducted a study regarding the formation of habits. It took anywhere between a frighteningly quick 18 days to a ploddingly slow 254 days for participants in the study to form their habits. The average was 66 days.
So don’t try and be a superhero…it takes time!
As an all or nothing person myself, I would make plans to radically overhaul my life. I WILL give up chocolate. I WILL stop eating crisps. I WILL ditch all takeaway food. I WILL exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. I WILL cleanse, tone and moisturise daily. I WILL brush my teeth every night before bed. I WILL drink at least 3 litres of water each day. I WILL be the best employee ever. I WILL learn to love my boss. I WILL shave my legs during the winter months. I WILL be the best ever girlfriend…the list was endless. And of course, don’t forget the ‘I WILL do all of these things as of right this minute’!
All I needed to do was make some small but significant changes.
I decided to read up about this habit forming stuff – to see if I could find out how to do it more effectively. It was interesting discovering that we form habits in order to become effective – it is an evolutionary process designed to help prevent us from getting ‘decision making fatigue’ apparently. Jeremy Dean, author of ‘Making Habits, Braking Habits’, discusses the fact that we have to make thousands of decisions a day, and our mind takes over and creates habits – things that we do automatically to free up our processing power for other thoughts.
Whilst it might feel like we have no control over our habits, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For us to enact our habit, there has to be a cue. Then there is the routine – for example pouring a glass of wine, or unwrapping a bar of chocolate. Finally, there is the reward…which is drinking the wine and feeling relaxed or eating the chocolate and getting a sugar high – that reward which tells our brain that this a habit worth holding on to. We then enter a continuing cycle of cue, routine, reward, cue, routine, reward. This cycle becomes so deeply ingrained that it can be hard to break – it feels automatic. It takes conscious effort and will to change…but you can change!
It takes time to change – think 66 days on average, not fecking 22! – but it can be done. Small changes are the way to go. Don’t try and tackle everything at once. One of the key ways of making changes in our eating patterns involve those things that will make you roll your eyes at me – yes, a food and mood diary. If you can note how you feel before you eat, the time of day, what you eat, and how you feel afterwards – you will start to notice patterns.
That chocolate from the vending might occur at a certain time every day – so the time is the cue. The sugar rush is the reward. The routine – linking the time of day (cue) and the sugar rush (reward) is the eating of the chocolate. When you think about it though, the need for a sugar rush could be linked to tiredness – perhaps you note this in the ‘mood’ section of your diary…so changing the routine (chocolate eating) could help – grabbing some time outside in the fresh air eating an apple instead, or spending five minutes in the break room chatting with a friend instead of being on the phone or in front of the computer.
This sounds quite simple. Of course I know that if you need chocolate, you NEED chocolate…or you think you need it. Often cravings for sweet food are due to a carbohydrate craving. Chocolate is a quick fix. If you ensure a healthy and balanced diet with three good meals a day, these cravings soon start to disappear. Telling yourself that you will never eat chocolate again is not likely to work. Yet creating a new habit of eating three decent meals each day, and having chocolate as a last resort – after fresh air, an apple, a chat with a friend – a different distraction or routine – is likely to be easier to accomplish.
I once spoke with a lady who was really struggling to give up fizzy drinks. She was shocked that I didn’t try and talk her out of it. I told her to keep buying the fizzy drinks, but that each time she bought one from the canteen, she should also drink a small cup of water from the water cooler and have this before opening the drink. And each time she wanted the fizzy drink, to have a bit more water. The comfort of knowing she could have the fizz helped…but the water took away the thirst. She has now ditched the fizzy stuff – over a 3 month period – and drinks plain old council pop…tap water!
Anyway, I won’t harp on. The simple fact is that if you want to change, but don’t make changes, nothing is going to happen. It will take time, it will take effort, but taking small steps will help. Creating new habits is far easier than breaking old ones…so don’t focus on what you can’t or shouldn’t be doing…focus on what you can do instead.
Right then – the usuals…
Today has been a good day. Although I did forget to turn my weekday alarm off, so I was rudely awoken quite early! It was a morning of housework, then I took my other half canoeing and caught up on some fitness magazines whilst I waited for him. Then we came home and bled the radiators – rock’n’roll! I went and checked on the horses, three of them were settled and eating, one was running around like a loon due to some rather tame fireworks! He’s a plonker. He came straight over to me in the field and happily had his rug fiddled with and a treat…so he can’t have been that bothered. Then I headed over to see my Dad. It’s his birthday tomorrow but we were having a meal together. So I have not long got home from that! I was also quite excited to see my article on scams and fad diets published on a lovely bloggers website – I love spreading the message that healthy eating and exercise is the way to go…along with work on the mind of course. I say ‘lovely blogger’ – which she is – but she also has a leading blog, so I was quite pleased to be featured on it! If you haven’t already clicked the previous link, click this one to take a look!
Breakfast: Banana porridge (5 syns).
A nice food day! The usual brekkie was followed by a quick lunch in the car. I made two smoked salmon rolls whilst I was waiting for my other half – and had a car picnic! Dinner was taken to my Dads house – they all had a takeaway whilst I had my salad…it was lovely…but I must admit to having a good sniff of a naan bread!
Exercise: A nice rest day today – with a tiny mooch in the horses field.
Thank you for reading,
Weight Loss Bitch xxx