Do you set a goal to have a great beach body by summer only to find yourself eating Oreo cookies in the evening after a stressful day?
Many of us find ourselves in this predicament and we may question “Why do I feel so out of control with food?” What if I told that your desire and your motivation are pulling you in different directions – surprised? I bet you are! You see your rational mind wants a great beach body but your emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie.
The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains.
Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control.
This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly. Don’t worry, you are not alone… as a coach, I hear these questions on a regular basis
- Why do I feel so out of control with food?
- When see food I eat even when I’m full?
- How can I feel more in control with my food?
So WHY is it so hard to make lasting changes in our lives?
Your Brain Isn’t Of One Mind.
In fact, the brain has two independent systems at work at all times and you are most likely aware of this tension.
First, there’s what we called the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.
Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyses and looks into the future.
And here’s a popular myth… “You need to use willpower to control your impulses and cravings”
Remember your goal of attaining a great beach body by summer and the Oreo cookies you munched on in the evening after a stressful day?
How did you go using willpower to resist that craving?
What Is Willpower?
Willpower activates your prefrontal cortex and can be defined as the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
This part of your brain plays a significant role in making decisions, especially when it comes to your inhibition. Inhibition is the ability to stop yourself from doing something that may not be the healthiest or most productive.
Here’s the real truth: when you are too emotional, you won’t make rational choices, even though you know what’s best for you.
We are driven more by our emotions and that’s why will power doesn’t work!
And if you are trying to decide while feeling hungry, angry, tired or bored (or some combination of more than one of the above) emotion will win 100% of the time and you will likely decide you may regret.
The Divided Self.
In the Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, Jonathan Haidt calls “the divided self” quoting Roman poet Ovid to define the difference between logical and emotional thinking.
He says: “I, for one, can easily muster the willpower to ignore all the desserts on the menu. But if dessert is placed on the table, and I take one bite I can’t resist finishing it off. “
“I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong”- Ovid, 43 B.C. – 17 A.D
Haidt believes that the brain is divided by four parts; Mind vs. Body, and Left vs. Right, Old vs. New, controlled vs. Automatic, thus likening the self as a “committee whose members have been thrown together to do a job, but who often find themselves working at cross-purposes [contributing] to our experiences of temptation, weakness and inner conflict.”
Enter the Elephant and the Rider.
Haidt explains further: “The image that came up with for myself, as I marvelled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him”
“The two brains are like an elephant and its rider. The rider can steer and pull the elephant in a particular direction, but ultimately, the elephant is going to go where it wants to go,”
The balance of power between the rider (your rational brain) and elephant (emotional brain) plays a large part in shaping your daily decisions and is typically skewed towards the latter.
That’s because your emotional brain is stubborn.
Even in the face on facts, and data, it will still choose the path of comfort. No matter how you rationalize a decision, if you don’t feel like it, you won’t obey your thinking brain. Ultimately if the elephant decides to do something there is little the rider can do to stop it.
Your emotional brain sees itself as the intelligent, rational brain, and it believes it’s in control of your consciousness. Even when you believe you are making rational decisions, the actual choice may, in reality, be based on emotion.
Let’s explore some ways to get your divided selves to work in unison to achieve the things you really desire.
To change behaviour, you’ve got to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path. If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen, even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.
1.Find The Feeling (Motivate the Elephant).
This is about motivating “The Elephant”
You got to find that feeling that drives you to make the change, knowing something isn’t enough to cause change- You need to feel it!!
- Identify your WHY for making the change
- What else will change in your life as a result of this primary change?
- Then shrink the change- break down the change until it no longer spooks the elephant.
2.Change Your Environment (Shape the Path).
When the situation changes, your behaviour will change too.
Trying to fight the elephant is usually futile and trying to use our willpower, usually leads to failure, so you need to change the path that the elephant walks on.
If we can change the path so that it leads the elephant to where the rider wants to go, and we don’t have to be fighting it all the time.
And in practice that means changing the environment. Changing the surroundings, the elephant finds itself in so that it goes where you want it.
There is no denying that our food environment- the access we have to specific food has an impact on our food decisions. We have a constant supply of nutritionally poor food, and because we are so busy, we get into bad daily habits that are hard to break
Let’s look at some examples:
A. Clean Out the Fridge and Pantry.
So that you’re not surrounded with things you have to resist in order to have a healthy diet.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Clean out the junk – It’s great to commit to enjoying more fruits, but unless you change what’s in your pantry and fridge, you’ll find temptation catching up with you sooner or later.
- Take the time to do a thorough spring cleaning of your pantry.
- Get rid of items that you know are tempting
- Read food labels and get rid of products that are overly high in sodium, sugar or artificial colourings and preservatives.
Restock with healthier foods -Whole grains, beans and other high-fibre foods, for example, are central to a healthy diet and they are often easy go-to cupboard staples when the fridge is bare.
- Prepare healthy snacks that you can grab on the go
- Reorganize and prioritize
- We are creatures of habit and convenience.
- Make sure that preparing healthy meals is easy by organising your pantry so the good stuff is easy to get to and is within your vision
B. Meal Planning.
Planning ahead allows you to be deliberate with your food choices.
If you want healthy eating to be an effortless, the next thing to do is to develop better lifestyle habits like basic planning and organisation so you always have healthy food on hand, no matter what life throws at you.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Pick one day a week to meal plan
- Set one shopping day per week
- Decide what you will be eating on a daily basis, including snacks.
- Prepare meals in advance so that you always have healthy options on hand
3.Change Your Thinking About Food (Direct the Rider).
When you choose your thoughts ahead of time that override the automatic system, the rider can begin to change what the elephant will want in the future.
The results you see in your life today are a sum of your choices and actions.
Let’s explore a thought changing Model By Brooke Castillo to make this a reality.
The Model is the one tool you need to change anything in your life by helping you understand how your circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, and results work.
This particular example is called “Neutralization Model”. The aim here is to neutralize your thoughts about the cake at the party.
So, let’s say you’re going to a party where there will be cake. So, this is the ‘circumstance’
The way you think about the cake at the party generates a certain feeling and this thought and feeling leads to a subsequent action.
So, in short:
- Emotions are the reactions to the thoughts you are thinking
- How you feel reflects what you’re thinking about.
On the left-hand side is the unintentional model (the elephant is in charge here) and the right-hand side represents the intentional model (the rider is in charge here).
Notice that in the intentional model- the new replacement factual thought is “there is cake at this party”. This is neutral thought.
Now notice the different feeling, action and results this new- neutral thought generates, and then observe the impact of the results.
I’m sure that you have noticed by now that it’s are very different to the unintentional model.
The moral of the story is: Planning your thinking forward, with deliberate decisions allows the rider to take charge and thus create better results.
And lastly successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.
Now I would love to hear from you…
- I have shared 3 steps with you to feel in complete control of food, how will you make sure to action them?
Please comment below, I would love to hear your story.
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