We all like to think that we’re rational beings who make well-considered decisions based on careful review of all the available options. But we’re usually unaware of internal conflicts between priorities and brain circuitry, so it’s hard for us to explain why we sign up for gym memberships and then never go, or vow to quit boozing when we woozily go to bed one night then wind up at happy hour the very next afternoon. The left brain- the “inner grownup”- dedicated to logic and reason, was late in development. The emotional, child-like, right brain is primal. As much as we may wish otherwise, our physical sensations and emotions actually drive the bus. Most of the time, right brain circuits are in charge of our decisions. The “reptilian” (right) brain parts want to keep us happy, keep us safe, and make us feel as good as possible. Eating less food (and/or less tantalizing food) translates to discomfort. Moving more (exercising intentionally) means more demands to an already busy schedule. The right brain sends signals that these things are threats. Eating healthier, eating less, and working out more contravene primal goals. When we perceive a threat, the defensive mechanisms kick in, pleading us to abort plan and revert back to what was safe and comfortable. To calm the right brain and progress successfully with the change process, change is best implemented slowly, and in small steps.
We are spooked by big obstacles. The right brain will quickly send messages as to why the new plan of eating well and exercising cannot work. However, small, practical changes are hurdles that are confidently crossed. Just try to direct the small change at your biggest limiting factor. For example, if your biggest dietary pitfall is that you drink 5 Dr. Pepper’s a day, don’t try to stop drinking soda, altogether. Doing so would be like trying to leap over a mountain. Turn that mountain into a tiny hurdle by dropping your DP consumption to 3 Dr. Pepper’s and 1 Diet Dr. Pepper. Over time, based on your confidence, you can decrease your number of sodas per day and add more water. In the beginning, start with small, manageable changes that barely affect your lifestyle. The next week, if you feel 90-100% confident that you can take another step, take another victorious stride. The challenges will feel smaller, your confidence will feel bigger.
Apply this plan of small, manageable changes to whatever your biggest dietary pitfall may be. If exercise is your stumbling block, try to allot time for two 10-minute sessions per day, as opposed to one long session. Increase your intensity and duration over time, without rushing yourself to progress. By shrinking the change, you grow your potential for long-term success.