Psychologists have long studied the process of making healthy changes. They find that, whether you want to be more active, eat a healthier diet, or pursue other lifestyle changes, the process of developing a success mindset is similar.
Research indicates that change is hard for all of these pursuits. Long-established habits build their own reward structure into our minds. In fact, our very understanding of pain and pleasure can be wired in favor of maintaining an unhealthy habit. Pursuing change thus becomes a conflict between who we want to be and who we have wired ourselves to be. That is, our conscious, intellectual goals don’t always line up with our emotional, subconscious behaviors. Fortunately, there are ways to rewire ourselves once we are armed with this knowledge.
Adopting a Success Mindset
Your first task is to recognize that change will be difficult but not impossible.
The first barrier to success is a belief – often fed by a new coach, program or device – that change will be easy. If you start with this belief, you will likely fail after running into your first difficulty.
The second barrier is the opposite: a belief that change is impossible. We may say to ourselves “I am so overweight/out of shape/anxious that success isn’t even an option.” This second barrier stops your progress before it even starts.
Your first task is to see change as a process with valuable benefits but a cost to pay. That is the first step to a successful change strategy and essential preparation for a success mindset. This insight is one of the keys to cognitive behavioral therapy.
Recognizing the True Nature of Your Challenge
The second task is recognizing that barriers to success are often due to habit, not need. For example, people generally believe that hunger signals nutritional needs. Research has shown, however, that hunger in well-fed populations is primarily a matter of expectations. Two groups fed the same volume of food, for example, will rate their satiety the same even if food in the test group has binders that reduce calorie intake.
That is, the actual need for calories doesn’t determine your hunger level. Hunger is mostly a matter of your perception of having enough. The limitation of this study is that it only lasted a brief period. However, it does tell us that lifestyle barriers are mostly due to habits and expectations, not need.
Seeing the difference between need and want helps you walk the path to success. For example, if you aren’t actually hungry when you reach for a snack, you may grab a glass of water instead. If your workout is out of your comfort zone but not actually hard, you may enjoy it more.
These are rather abstract, but important, ideas that can help you plan for success. Taking the time to reflect on them will help you with more concrete tasks.
So, what are some concrete tools for lifestyle change? We’ll address concrete strategies next week in part 2!