In the first part of this article, I suggested that to manage your health, eating and activity you could
- Pay attention to your environment, your workspace and your cupboards;
- Take time to imagine the future you want, in detail and in colour;
- Accept that your aren’t fully aware of everything you do, yet;
- Learn to manage the stresses you are under – learn from mistakes.
The best way to get yourself to behave is to keep an eye on yourself. Keeping a diary has been shown to reduce mindless snacking, smoking and even nail-biting, by bringing our unconscious habits to our attention, and encouraging better choices. Apps that track activity, including exercise, can make this an interesting, easy and reliable activity, but you need to be careful of the bigger picture – monitoring exercise alone may allow unfettered snacking!
Yes, not positively! Positive thinking has a huge following, but imagining a successful future may not be enough to imagine the steps needed to get there. Studies of positive thinking have not always shown it is enough to maintain effort over time. If we think about how bad it might get this might be more effective, and generate the motivation to keep up the effort we need (for example in overcoming fear of public speaking). So, imagine the (positive) solutions a step at a time, not forgetting the fear.
Train your brain:
We know more about the brain’s executive function system in the prefrontal cortex now, and “brain training” by doing daily practice (often on an electronic device) can make a difference to our control habits. But does it generalize and maintain? The evidence so far is that brain training is very difficult to generalize. But it probably gets better with coaching – someone to support and remind you of the longer-term goals.
The bigger picture:
The theme of all this advice is really to keep returning and adding to the big picture: if you want to eat better, you might join an exercise class – it may give you a head start on your diet, as a 2015 study found. There are no guarantees, though. You need to keep enlarging your awareness of yourself, your environment, imagining, training, learning from mistakes, and thinking ahead. A coach or counsellor may be able to help you enlarge your self while trimming your body! You are not alone.
(with thanks to New Scientist, “Outsmart Yourself”, 27.7.19)
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist