We are all pretty aware of the essential components of a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy, even if you’re not a nutritionist, is somewhat clear; physical activity; down time; balance; moderation or no substance use; and probably some other components that you have picked up over time. We all know this intellectually, yet how come it is so hard to implement these changes in our lives consistently?
The roadblocks are internal. Our brain often fights us on making these changes over the long-term, as there’s a part of our brain (the reward circuitry) that gets a strong dopamine response from doing the things that don’t make us feel good. Eating unhealthy food, picking the quick escape (Netflix, sedentary activities, partying), staying in the adrenaline mode of go-go-go and do-do-do give a greater hit for our brain than slowing down and balance. Sure, these actions may not subjectively feel good and we know they’re not that good for us, but the physiology doesn’t care about our interpretation of what’s happening, it just knows it’s programming and what it’s driving for.
So how do we deal with this ongoing push-pull that’s happening internally between the drive for unhealthy and the hope for healthy? A combination of continued awareness + action.
Awareness (and acceptance) that this is what’s happening and our brain is trying to pull us in a certain direction can be helpful as we can observe and redirect (sometimes, not always). Awareness allows us to sit as an observer of our own experience and see what’s happening more objectively, rather than be caught up in “going with the flow” which is when we will get caught up in old, unhealthy patterns.
Action is also a requirement. This does not mean doing every one of your health goals perfectly, all at once, all the time. What it means is identifying those small steps of change (see some of my previous blog posts on this topic) and going step by step, day by day, to develop a lifestyle and plan that shifts you to that healthy track the majority of the time.
Accept there will be regressions and days or moments where you get caught off guard by that part of your brain that’s looking for the dopamine hit, but those can be the minority rather than the bulk of the time.
Keep learning to work with your brain, accept our physiology, and take reasonable steps to doing different for yourself. This is the process of change.
By Paige Abbott of www.sanapsychological.com