There was an article in O magazine (yes, guys O. I admit that I read some of the stuff. You can’t sit here and tell me you don’t skim through some of your wife’s magazines too!) about the brain and its ability to change behaviors or decisions.
The study looked at the brain activity and determined when it “lit up” and how big the activation was based on how new the activity was.
As you would suspect the frontal lobe lit up in the beginning as they were just learning the new behavior. But, after about 50 repetitions the activation started to get a bit less with each subsequent repetition. Basically, the more they adapted to it the less the brain had to fire. When the brain fires off minimum effort then it was determined that it has formed a new habit.
So if you exercise 50 times in a row or eat great 50 times in a row will you automatically form the new habit?
The answer is that it depends. The doctor conducting the study said there are many variables. Things like stress actually reverse the process and inhibit the frontal lobe. So stress management is critical. The other part is the way in which you reward yourself. Find the right reward and make sure it is instant. He uses the analogy of potty training a dog. If your dog peed on the floor and you said to it “if you don’t pee in the floor for the week I will buy you a new rawhide bone”, you would be cleaning a lot of piss up. So the reward has to be instant.
So what does this all mean? And how do you change?
Set yourself up for success. Eliminate anything in your life that would give you a reason to “cheat”. So if it is nutrition based and chocolate is your downfall, eliminate it everywhere. House, work, car, etc. Second, find something you love to do and start there. So if it was exercise, think back to when you were a kid. What did you like to do then? Stickball? Jump rope? Rollerblade?
Finally, if those don’t work, SUCK IT UP! After about 2-3 weeks depending on your brain, it will start producing a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is like Miracle Gro for your brain.