We all know we should be eating better and exercising more. We know eating a whole bag of chips is not the healthiest snack and skipping our daily walk won’t bring us closer to our goals. And yet, why is it so hard to change our habits and make better decisions even if we are actually aware of all of this?
First step: AWARENESS
Many of us go through life without ever stopping, taking a step back, questioning our day-to-day. Between work, kids, responsibilities, some sort of a social life, meals and sleep, life often feels like an on-going sprint.
The first step to making any changes is to STOP and audit whatever part or aspect of our lives we want to improve. It’s one thing to say that we want to reach a specific goal or optimize a specific habit, but it’s another one to know exactly where we are starting from and how far (or close) we are to hit that target.
Let’s say we want to improve our nutrition. Creating that awareness would start by logging in every single thing that we eat and drink for a few days (yes, including the weekends!). We often don’t need a nutrition coach to make us notice that we have been skipping lunch every second day or that our last vegetable was 3 days ago.
By auditing the way we eat, we can quickly see what needs to change and we are more aware of our current nutrition habits; we now have a starting point. This will also help us be more precise when setting strategies to optimize these habits.
One of the reasons why we don’t step into action to make some health changes is that we often feel overwhelmed and have no idea how to even start. Creating that awareness and setting more specific goals and strategies will help us navigate through that.
Another way to practice self-awareness is to catch our thoughts by pausing all we are doing for a couple seconds a few times during the day. We have more than 60 000 thoughts every day! It’s impossible to be aware of every single one of these thoughts but by taking several moments during the day to ask ourselves questions like: What am I thinking right now? How am I feeling? Is this the best decision for my health?
Is my inner dialogue negative or positive at the moment, we give ourselves a chance to be more conscious of our mindset, actions and inner speech and we can start reprogramming the way we think and act in a way that serves us much better.
Just like any new habit, we want to make sure we actually REMEMBER to do this several times per day. Setting some reminders in our agendas or alarms on our phones can be a great way to make sure we don’t forget to check in with ourselves.
Now that we have created that awareness, it’s time to understand our subconscious mind.
Second step: UNDERSTANDING
Our subconscious mind is extremely powerful. It records every single thing we hear, feel, see and experience from the moment we are born. This recording creates automations and programs that will eventually dictate about 95% of everything we do (!!).
This explains the all too common phenomenon of going through a whole bag of chips and ‘not being able’ to stop ourselves, even if we know this behaviour won’t bring us closer to our fat loss goal.
Consciously, we are aware of this; but subconsciously, we keep eating because we associate, somehow in our programming, that ‘eating the whole bag of chips’ is ‘safe’ for us. The subconscious mind’s main role is indeed to keep us safe, but safe in this case’s definition, means what the subconscious mind KNOWS and not necessarily what is healthy or the best thing for us.
To go further with that chips example; maybe you saw your mom growing up eating chips as a way to relax after a long day of work; or maybe chips were forbidden in your house and only allowed on special occasions during which your whole family would eat a huge amount of it to fully take advantage of that ‘special treat’.
Any habit, action, decision that seems on ‘autopilot’ or really hard to let go or change is usually the cause of some sort of programming created when we were younger and/or beliefs we integrated throughout our lives from recurring habits and thoughts.
Going back to that awareness; knowing where all of it comes from can help us understand why it might be so hard for us to let go of some habits or why we sometimes feel like we always self-sabotage or end up going back to old patterns like giving into temptations or skipping workouts.
Now that we understand this, the most important thing is to start reprogramming these beliefs so that whatever becomes automatic (and ‘safe’) from now on will be habits, thoughts, decisions and actions that will actually help us achieve our goals.
Nop, you don’t have to be angry at your mom or figure out a way to go back in time to undo these beliefs! What you can do though is use this next strategy to start reprogramming your brain.
Third step: REPROGRAMMING
We now have a starting point and an awareness of our current habits. We also understand why it can be challenging to change our beliefs and daily actions as well as the difference between what we know consciously and subconsciously.
The next step (and the most important one for long term success) is to start reprogramming these thoughts and subconscious beliefs with new programs that will serve us much better.
The best way to do this is by using affirmations. Nop, I am definitely not talking about standing in front of the mirror and repeating to yourself every morning ‘I am skinny, I am skinny, I am skinny’ and then waiting to magically wake up skinny the next morning.
There are ways to use phrases and words that your subconscious mind will actually take in and use to start erasing the old programming to write a new one.
You can use words like ‘I’m in the process of…’, ‘I choose to…’, ‘I feel free to…’, ‘I’m the type of person who…’. These affirmations can be quite general (I’m the type of person who has great health habits) or more specific (I’m in the process of working out consistently 3 times per week).
We can (and we have to!) repeat these affirmations several times EVERY DAY; in the morning as soon as we wake up, at night right before falling asleep and especially when we catch ourselves doing a habit or having a thought that we want to get rid of or optimize.
Going back to the chips example; when we catch ourselves eating through the whole bag, we can pause, be aware of what we are doing and repeat our affirmation out loud or in our head; ‘I choose to have healthier nutrition habits’.
We might still finish that bag of chips that night, but the more we catch ourselves and use these affirmations to create a new ‘safe’, a new ‘automation’ in our subconscious mind, the easier it will get to eventually eat a moderate portion or pick a healthier snack.
Reprogramming our brain can take some time. We have to be patient, invest some time and effort into creating that awareness and repeat our affirmations with a strong sense of confidence every day. We will end up believing in ourselves and in our capacity to change any habit and stick to them in the long term.
Having confidence in our ability to have success with any target we set for ourselves is KEY. Stepping into action brings competence which then nourishes our confidence. Don’t wait for motivation to get started – you will wait a long time! Motivation does not last which is why we have to rely on consistent ACTION first and on integrating HABITS to have results, achieve our goals and boost our confidence – and this awesome circle keeps going and going.
Optimizing your MINDSET is the foundation for everything else. We can eat some fruits and go for a run every week, but if our self-awareness is absent, our inner dialogue negative and our programming not serving us anymore, it is going to be really challenging to step into that healthier and better version of ourselves.
We can have the perfect workout plan and tons of healthy recipes on hand, if we don’t reprogram our mind to actually BELIEVE that we can become that person who takes care of their health and reaches their goals, that plan and those recipes become useless.