It is a longstanding myth that motivation alone can power our every decision. Motivation is often fleeting and quite honestly, exhausting, when it’s the only strategy for pushing you towards your goal. The brain needs more than a pep-talk to create healthy, sustainable habits. Set yourself up for success with these three strategic – and somewhat unexpected – mindset tools.
The brain works in mysterious ways. It can support healthy decisions or undermine them within a split second. In fact, a high percentage of human behavior and decision making is irrational in nature. Certain situations can cause the brain to subconsciously choose in a way that goes against all good intentions. This is especially true with decisions around healthy behaviors. Have you ever planned to eat a healthy meal at home, then walked past a fast food restaurant and grabbed a combo without blinking an eye? Perhaps you felt like you “blacked out” during the decision-making process or like you had no power to change course. This is split-second irrationality at its finest. Or maybe you have all good intentions to start a workout, but are waiting until you feel “ready.” Waiting around for the exact mental circumstances to make a healthy change in your life might keep you waiting for quite a while. Luckily, science has studied human behavior at-length, uncovering ways to leverage behavioral tendencies to support intentional healthy habit formation. In other words, using the innate power of our minds to create the changes we desire.
Act before you are ready
Before implementing any change in our lives, it’s common to want to feel “ready.” It can feel like it makes sense to hold off until the right conditions are met mentally before acting. The term “Readiness to Change” is a well-studied step within human behavior change theories and motivational interviewing tactics. However, it has been well documented that action itself can fuel mental conditions. This is often referred to as the concept of “mood follows behavior” which underscores the powerful connection between our actions and emotions. Essentially, this idea suggests that our actions and behaviors can have a significant impact on our emotional state and mood. This concept can be a powerful tool for improving one’s overall health and wellness. Instead of waiting until you’re ready, jump into a decision and watch your mood shift to accommodate. Not feeling like a run? Put on running shoes and take a few steps forward – and see what happens to your desire to keep going.
Visualize yourself succeeding
The eyes are an extension of the brain: they are quite literally connected to brain mater via the optic nerve. Just as taking in information from the external environment powers actions in responses to images around us, so can internal visual pictures. Visualization involves creating mental images of our desired outcomes and focusing on them with intention and clarity. By envisioning ourselves succeeding in a healthy habit, feeling proud and fulfilled, we can train our minds to believe that these outcomes are possible and achievable. This can help to boost our confidence and motivation, which in turn can lead to repeated positive behaviors. Visualization is a tool that professional athletes use to prepare mentally for a game or event. Many train their minds down to the detail of their routine or race before the whistle blows. Research has shown this to be extremely effective in improving performance and outcomes. The next time you feel stuck in making changes in your health, visualize yourself achieving your goals. It will make them more realistic and more likely to come to fruition.
Create a pathway for positive reinforcement
Another mindset “hack” that seems relatively obvious is positive reinforcement. Behavior that has been reinforced as beneficial or celebrated is more likely to be repeated. Creating a pathway for positive reinforcement can be an effective strategy for improving health and wellness. For example, if we set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes each day, we might reward ourselves with a healthy snack or a relaxing bath after each successful workout. It may sound simple and childlike, but even simple acts of positive reinforcement like giving yourself a gold star or checking a box at the end of the day can create a positive feedback loop that helps the brain crave reinforcement, and therefore repeat an intended behavior. By associating positive outcomes with our healthy behaviors, we can create a sense of joy and satisfaction that can reinforce our commitment to our goals.
The brain is a powerful tool that we can use to our benefit to fulfil established goals. By understanding what drives behavior and leveraging existing neural pathways and tendencies, you can help set yourself up for success instead of relying on motivation alone. Of course, accountability never hurts when making lifestyle changes. Work with a Nutrition Coach who can help you even further instill long-term healthy habits to reach your goals.