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Retrain Your Brain For Maximum Success With New Year’s Resolutions

Self

As 2018 begins, many of us make New Year's resolutions. According to studies, the most common of these promises is to lose weight. We start off, guns blazing. We promise ourselves that we'll never eat a whole pizza or coffeecake again. We promise to work out extra-hard to blast those unwanted pounds away— and as a result, gyms and health clubs enjoy a sharp spike in their membership enrollment this time of year.


We're gung-ho! For a while. Then January turns to February, and soon it's June, and it's time to put on shorts or a swimsuit, but, sadly, the pounds remain right where we left them. Maybe we melted off a few inches, or even a dress-size, in those early months, but they've returned. Summer turns to fall, fall to winter, and next year, we make the same resolutions. With the same results.

As a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist, for over 30 years, I've devoted my practice to helping patients learn how to get to their desired weight, and maintain them for a minimum of seven years on average. The reason that many health and fitness New Year's resolutions generally don't work is that most people don't realize that a profound, authentic learning experience is required. It starts with honesty and new habit formation.

By honesty, I mean being honest with yourself in consciously recognizing everything you eat and do on a detailed level, but also realizing that much of the language around food, eating, weight-loss, exercise and fitness has a negative, punitive sting. If you're feeling desperate, you may be attracted to the idea of punishment. Desperation is the root of many New Year's resolutions, but the cold sweat of this brutality only motivates us for a short time. Soon, we burn out and return to our soothing, comforting old patterns, where we perceive ourselves with shame.

But know this: feelings of reward and success are far more enduring as forms of behavioral nourishment. They are a complete meal will give you a steady burn of strength and energy for much longer than a few weeks. Basing your New Year's vision on reward and success will allow you to create habits that can last a lifetime.

To get your body to look and feel the way you want it to requires that you literally change your mind, and retrain your brain with a few new, almost unnoticeable changes in habit to get the weight off and keep it off. A more trim, sleek shape begins in your head—train your brain and your body will follow! Think of it like learning how to more efficiently swing a tennis racket or golf club. Making a few minor adjustments in your posture and the way you hold the racket or club can make a world of difference in your swing, which can last you a lifetime.

Remember, to create habits with staying-power, you need to design your own individual eating plan, based on your own authentic likes, dislikes and experiences. Someone else's rigid diet or fitness regimen probably won't work for you, although you can get useful information and inspiration from them.

Ways to make your New Year's Resolutions a greater success:

1. Count to 21.

Neurologists and other scientists agree: new habits are formed in our human central nervous system in 21 days, based on daily repetition of the new behavior. This includes, for instance, quitting tobacco. Generally, if you get through 21 days of the new practice, the new habit is pretty securely set. This means you have a good chance of maintaining the new behavior indefinitely, even when compensating for occasional setbacks.

2. Set yourself up for an immediate win.

Complete an emotionally neutral activity every day for 21 days to set up a new reward pattern. Don't make highly stressful, dramatic changes in lifestyle. I suggest that you set a daily goal for yourself that isn't painful to deal with. Do it consistently every day for 21 days to set up a pattern of winning, success and reward in your brain and body. Examples: Commit to flossing your teeth twice a day, every day for 21 days. Or, commit to drinking a big glass of water every morning, even before coffee, every morning. Draw a big heart on each calendar day where you keep your promise to yourself. Give yourself credit for consistency— neurologically speaking, you've created a new habit by Day 22.

3. Apply your attitude of success to how you deal with food.

Begin applying this pattern of reward to how you eat. Begin by honestly observing and recording what you eat, when and why you eat. The goal is to change the behaviors that cement unwanted pounds on your body. Observe yourself, and note what you observe. This will allow you to plan your eating, and respond to food in different ways, to allow you to shed weight and keep it off successfully.

4. Create an authentic pattern for success which is unique to you.

This world is full of reformers, and many of them take a rough, Marine Corps-style approach. In fact, the “boot camp" metaphor is applied widely to all sorts of training and learning. This “boot camp" style has a moralistic, even menacing tone at times.

I take a more nurturing approach. Just as every child learns to speak, read, write, play, interact and so on in her or his individual way, you will do best with your weight management if you create a pattern that is authentic to you. Don't allow yourself to bullied by what other people say is right.

Don't say that you will never eat chocolate again. If chocolate is important to you, build it into your new habit. Accept it. Also, if chocolate is one of your personal favorites, prepare a coping plan when you encounter the random chocolate birthday cake at the office. Surprise! Have a practiced response in place to deal with the unexpected.

5. Food is not the enemy. So enjoy it.

Food issues are often lumped into the same therapeutic conversations as alcohol, cigarettes and addictive drugs. Our bodies cannot function without food. The same cannot be said for those other substances. Part of creating your self-management plan is remembering that food is here to serve our bodies. There is no shame in biting into something that tastes delicious, thrills our senses, fills our bellies, nourishes us on a cellular level, and gives us the opportunity to socialize with other human beings. To achieve and maintain your best weight, you don't need to hate food. You need to create a good relationship with it.

6. Your body is not the enemy. So cherish it.

People who have a history of struggling with weight may have ambivalence about their bodies. Creating new habits of reward and success around food can be deeply helpful when we want to release negative body-feelings and move on. In addition to creating new patterns around eating, use your self-management practice as the opportunity to appreciate your most essential physical self. Treat your body to a massage as often as you can. Moisturize your feet, heels, elbows and other areas of your skin you may typically overlook. Instead of a quick shower, try a luxurious, medium-warm bath with an aromatherapy soak.

7. Keep learning and adapting your food and exercise plan.

Although I advocate planning, this world is filled with unexpected surprises. I honestly think that the unexpected—a sudden thunderstorm, even—keeps us alert, alive, and always opening to experience. Surprises expand our awareness. So we need to be agile and flexible in our self-management.

You cannot control the world, and in fact, I'm not so sure any of us would want to. But, we can control how we respond.

3 Min Read
Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.