Adapt your life and cheat evolution
Creating new habits, such as eating better or being more physically active, can be difficult. There are explanations why! Adapting to your everyday environment and anticipating obstacles are some of the tricks for creating habits that last over time.
Creating new habits
-Imagine you are standing at the edge of a rolling field of wheat. The wheat is quite high and stands straight up. You want to walk through the field, and the first time you do it it is really difficult. When you turn around to see where you have gone, the wheat has stood up again behind you. You continue to walk the same path through the field every day. When you turn around and see where you have been, you eventually begin to see a trail. If you continue, you’ll eventually create a path. That's more or less how it is possible to create a new habit, says Emelie Espegren, a psychological coach with a degree in positive psychology and neuroscience. She meets many people who want to change their lifestyles and understands the challenges we face as humans.
It takes time
- How long it takes to create a new habit depends a lot of things, but it is often said it takes between 20 and 80 days. It simply takes some time to create your ‘path’, says Emelie Espegren. Some days it can be challenging. It can feel boring and like you have to force yourself to do the thing you have decided to do. We can call this the critical period.
- We usually start with unrealistic goals and too tight a time frame. After a while, we can no longer bear it. We feel that we are simply not reaching the goals we have set. Things get in the way and slowly but surely we fall back into the routines we had before, Emelie Espegren continues.
Evolution gets in the way
It's not really that strange that it's hard to change habits. You are not a failure just because you fail sometimes. There are natural explanations for this.
- Our brain has been around as long as our species has been around. The physical functions of our brain are basically the same,, says Emelie Espegren. Earlier in human history, for example, sweet and fatty things were in short supply, so it was something you were lucky to get hold of. Once we humans found something sweet and fat, we quickly took in as much of it as we could. The body is so ingenious that the fats and sugars are transformed into a storehouse of fat, which helped us survive. Then we rested and took it easy, which again helped save as much energy as possible.
The brain faces an uphill struggle
- We basically live with the same brain today, but now we have everything in front of us. We are programmed to be motivated to stuff ourselves with certain types of food, out of pure survival instinct. You could say we are constantly trying to beat our own brains, and it can be tough at times, says Emelie Espegren.
Now we somehow live in a world that we were not really made to live in. What benefited us as a species before can today harm us. We eat too much food, move too little, smoke, drink too much alcohol and expose ourselves to too much stress. We know today that these are key factors in several diseases caused by our lifestyle.
Fool evolution - prepare for everyday life
How do we then cheat evolution and ensure we make and keep good habits? One way is to adapt your everyday environment to the habits you want to create. It's about making it as easy as possible for you.
The journal Psychology Today explains that people who want to get used to a new habit - or perhaps get rid of an old one - need to adapt their surroundings to the change. Simply make sure that the new habit becomes easier to do and the old habit becomes more difficult. It is simply a matter of anticipating the obstacles. On what occasions do you usually think "Oh, I don't care about this"?
For example, let’s say you decided to start going to the gym in the morning, but for some reason you often stay in bed. Maybe the distance to the closet feels way too long? A tip could be to put your exercise clothes right next to the bed. If you are going to jog or walk when you get home from work, it might be nice to have a snack ready in the fridge to eat before you go out. Do you have pain and feel your body is not able to do the activity you intended? Try to have a plan for an alternative: maybe a few less laps than usual or maybe choose an easier activity altogether.
Fill the refrigerator with healthy foods
Plan your food every week, including lunch boxes and snacks
display fruit, nuts and other healthy foods
Plan your week and try to make room for both the activity and recovery
Pack your gym bag in the evening
How do you do?
What are your own tricks for bringing good habits into life? Write to us at Elsa and we will fill in the list of tips.