You cannot hit a target if you are not aiming directly at it.
By this I mean that any weight loss or health goal will become much, much harder and fruitless if you don’t even have a target – so first rule is you must decide what that target is. Decide exactly what you want in your life, how you want to feel and how you want to look – then think about the opposite, how you don’t want to feel and look, this will start to create the vision in your mind. And remember that you will get whatever you think about, so right now start focusing on the things you want and create a crystal-clear vision of you achieving it. How will it feel to you? – that’s your target.
The next step is to encourage your neurological growth to guide you in the direction of your target, and so you must amplify the pleasure you associate with achieving it.
Willpower is not a thing… I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say, “I was doing so well – then I lost my willpower” but here’s the thing, you cannot lose something that isn’t actually a thing. Willpower is not like a set of car keys, you can’t actually lose it, because it’s a mind-set or an attitude not a tangible object. Your behaviour is determined by how you think, and importantly, how you verbalise those thoughts inside your head.
Imagine you had arranged to meet someone, but you were having second thoughts and really didn’t want to go, and that you only agreed because you felt you should; then when it came to leaving, you genuinely couldn’t find your car keys, and it was too far to walk, you would then by default be able to do what you really wanted instead. So, if you believe that you need willpower, all you have to do to go off track, is tell yourself you have lost it and hey presto – cakes, sweets, fatty snacks etc. are back on the menu!
So, if it’s not willpower, what is it that you need? Well you can pick a word that works for you, but essentially, it’s mind-set, attitude or desire. For all of these there’s a neurological pattern that keeps you on track. Of course, you have to create this pattern, and it’s helpful to know a little bit about how the brain works to help you do that. We are programmed to avoid pain and achieve pleasure, whether you are a carrot or a stick person fundamentally your unconscious mind is always going to lead you away from pain wherever possible, whatever that pain is. In terms of evolution this was a very important strategy and it no doubt helped keep our hunter gatherers alive, however for those of us in the western world life is very different. We live a life of abundance and we have so many more things that bring us pleasure, including culinary delights.
If you think about the impoverished selection of foods our ancestors had compared to what is available to us it begins to make more sense; they certainly didn’t ever walk past a patisserie and salivate at all the wonderful cakes and sugary treats in the window, so they had no need to resist temptation and “stay on track” as staying on track was the only option.
It all comes down to association in the moment. When you set your target it’s easy to tell yourself you are not going to do anything that will deter you from your goal. If its weight loss it might be you are confident in walking past the vending machine, if its gambling or betting then you might be sure you can walk past the betting shop or the casino, when you are using your slower thinking mind you can completely commit to staying on track. The problem is that when we are faced with these triggers that evoked the old behaviour that got us what we didn’t want, we don’t use a ‘slow thinking’ process, our neurology is wired to avoid pain, so if we associate pain with not having the cake, not placing the bet, that will be our default setting.
This can be overcome and of course it’s one of the techniques I teach on my courses and it features heavily in the ‘Placebo Diet at Home’ online course.
It’s critical to long term progress to change your neurology so that the old behaviour genuinely loses its appeal. To the point that when you think of it you almost feel repulsed at the thought of doing it. Anything that brings you pleasure, whether it’s good for you longer term or not, is neurologically registered in the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s a delicious food, a surprise gift, a great physical encounter or promotion at work. Your brain releases dopamine (the motivation hormone) from a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens, which forms part of what is known as your brains pleasure centre. When you create a behaviour that activates the pleasure centre, then it’s easy to become addicted to this neurological “hit”. All the time you associate massive pleasure with this behaviour, the neurological drive to do it becomes stronger and stronger.
The answer is obvious, you change the association. Imagine you were addicted to eating pizza every time you worked late and didn’t have time to cook. That you processed it and labelled a meat feast pizza as a reward. Whenever you work late your brain is ahead of you and begins to release dopamine in anticipation of the pizza long before you eat it. By the time you finish work there’s no way you are not going to eat pizza. Imagine then one night you eat a pizza and as a result have the worst food poisoning, that your vomit tastes of rancid pizza and you are on the loo with it coming out of both ends. You know with absolute certainty it was the pizza that made you so graphically ill that your body evacuated it from both ends simultaneously. If someone offered you a pizza the next day your body would have learned to change the association and you would probably repel the thought.
Here is an exercise called “Craving Crusher” which uses this process to change how you think and feel about a specific food. If you want to try it, identify the food and then watch the video and I will talk you through it. So, set your target, think about the true pleasure you will get from achieving that target and practice my ‘Craving Crusher’ for the foods that you know will be the ones to try and move you off track!