Our ancestors grew up in a very different world to us; over the 2 or 3 million years we have been evolving into Homo Sapiens, they didn’t have any choice about whether to exercise, and eating fatty foods were not something they had a choice about. So our modern problems of diet, exercise and sitting still for hours were not things we have evolved to deal with. We have to learn ways to deal with them – but how? Here are the first four of eight simple slogans:
Your environment matters
Much of what we do we do by habit. Our environment cues our behaviour – often without our being aware of it. So if we want to change we may need to alter the environment. So if you need to diet, you may need to start by getting rid of the snacks usually lurking in the cupboard, perhaps using smaller than usual plates and glasses, and eating before you shop (you buy more when you are hungry). If you need to change study habits, start by tidying and finding places for the essentials, put up some new posters (or take the old ones down), and put the desk in a new position.
The future you matters:
We tend to worry about the present and the immediate future, and not think enough about the longer term. Brain imaging studies suggest that when we think about the future, the areas dealing with the self are surprisingly inactive, while areas dealing with other people are active. We seem to be strangers to our future selves. But we can tweak this: we can put more colour and feeling into images of our future selves. This helps make the longer-term choices more real, and more likely to alter what we do. We can talk about our futures with someone we trust – the more detail we can put in, the more likely it will influence our behaviour.
You aren’t aware of all of yourself:
Habits are difficult to change; most of the time, we go on doing what we are used to. If you really want to change, you may need to become aware of this and admit you are not consciously in charge of your own behaviour. But if you believe you can change, you are more likely to be able to change. In other words, will power is important and it can be developed through practice. Don’t expect to become strong willed all at once – but don’t give up quickly either. By choosing steps of the right kind for you, you can change direction.
Stress can change things:
Under a lot of stress we tend to choose less well, for example eating less healthy but more attractive food or drinks. We cannot avoid all stress, and it’s not so much the levels of stress hormone in our bodies but more the way we think about the stress that affects our choices. So learning to manage stress is very helpful. This includes making wrong decisions – we do best when we learn from the mistakes without beating ourselves up about them!
Four more good thinking habits to come in Part 2!
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist