When I began on my road to wellness, I had no idea of the importance of the brain. Sure, I thought my brain, as the seat of my intellect, was the driver in charge of my willpower and my failures, the place where my force and undermining convictions lay. What I didn’t realize is the importance of this mass of neurons and synapses, neural paths and impulses, and of something called neural plasticity. I also didn’t realize that controlling my behavior around food was literally a two-way street: not only did my decisions/lack of willpower affect what I put in my mouth, but what I put in my mouth affected my decisions/lack of willpower. And my gut health, which impacted my energy, could cause depression, etc., etc. We are really complicated.
Bottom line: if you’ve ever felt hopeless about changing your “bad habits”, otherwise known as unproductive behavior (not quite so judgmental, is it?), know that you can.
Over the last 30 years, neuroscience experiments have demonstrated that our experiences change our brains; this is important because it is our neural pathways which contain the history of how we live, showing us the map for how we will act in the future. Think of a hard drive: our actions write on the drive we call our brain; each time we repeat an action, the deeper the groove of that experience, and the more we will “default” to that same behavior. Changing habits requires “overwriting” our habitual patterns. The good news is, this can be done; the more challenging news is that, no surprise, we need to consciously write new patterns by acting differently.
“Acting differently” could be interpreted as willpower. Estimates on how long it takes to change a pattern or create a new habit vary from 21 to 90 days. I find it easier for me to commit to and to maintain my focus on a new behavior for 21 days than for the rest of my life. This reframing allows me to have more confidence that I can move towards healthier habits. Each small success increases not only my confidence, but also my competence and my sense of accomplishment. I can do this.