How many of you enjoy multi-tasking? What, no show of hands?
It’s probably because juggling multiple thoughts and actions is stressful, and likely means we’ll do a poorer job. Yeah yeah… try telling that to your boss I know. But it’s a fact. Recent books on efficiency that I’ve seen all seem to touch on the subject of setting aside chunks of time to do only e-mail, then a time for filling out the TPS reports, of whatever it might be. Point being they figured out what your Grandmother considered plan ‘ol common sense.
In the nutrition field many of the most effective coaches, such as Dr. John Berardi, have incorporated knowledge from behavioral psychology and experts in neurological sciences. And the consensus is that habit is a big deal. In the case of food we tend to eat the same things week after week and get accustomed to certain things, and when we alter that pattern what happens? We crave.
So what happens when what we are used to, what we habitually eat, makes us fat and unhealthy?
Some time back I came across an interview with Charles Duhigg, a writer that just published a book called The Power of Habit. His work centers mostly on exploring the science of how habits are formed and how to alter them for success in business. In the book he references studies regarding how people turned their lives around by altering only one habit, such as smoking, and other bad habits began to fall like dominos.
Among other things neurologists noted in studying the brain activity of subjects that you can apply to nutrition and fitness is this:
1. Changing one habit makes it easier for the brain to accommodate other subsequent changes. In other words quitting smoking will make it likelier that next month you’ll have better success at stopping the nightly oreo binge.
2. Change one habit at a time. Attempting to change more will decrease the chance of it sticking, as the brain will want to fall back into old stable patterns – which demands less energy from the brain.
3. Our brains like to bundle actions together, which is known as “chunking”. These chunks of actions quickly become routine, then habit. If you come home from work everyday tired and reach for the cookies or wine your brain, partly in an effort to save energy, will group those actions together so that pretty soon you will crave that wine every night. Then before long you notice your pants are fitting a little tighter.
If we want to reverse habits such as snacking at night, according to science and my own experience, it’s best to alter one thing at a time. Say for example deliberately stopping having wine each night but not changing what you eat or anything else, for now. Just focus on not having wine and having water or tea instead during the week. After a few weeks it will get easier and pretty soon you won’t miss it as much. You might still want it, and science shows that urge might never completely go away, but keep your attention on that one thing until it’s not a big deal. Then focus on the next thing.
The same lessons apply to fitness of course in that everyone who has ever spent time on an online fitness forum has seen dozens of questions from people who are trying to improve their running while improving strength while wanting to do Olympic lifting. If you need to improve your strength then do that. Later on you may be ready to work on endurance and so on. Whether or not they know what will really work to improve each quality is another matter, and why smart people read this blog and hire me to help them
None of this is new of course. A couple thousand years ago Lao Tzu famously said “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”