Lorn Healthy Options weekly health tip – August 12

Rob Graham, lead exercise professional at Healthy Options.

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How to make good habits more attractive

The brain of every animal is preloaded from birth with sets of rules that govern its behaviour and improve its chance of survival.

Each rule is triggered by a stimulus which largely dictates how we respond afterwards.  Take, for example, our approach to food. During much of our evolution, food was scarce so we evolved a preference for fatty, sugary and salty food meaning our brains now light up when we experience many of the junk food options pushed our way.

The junk food industry takes advantage of this evolutionary trait by investing millions to find the best crunch, fizz, feel and dynamic contrast when it comes to their products.

These supernormal stimuli can be seen in many areas of today’s society such as mannequins with perfect bodies in clothes shops and models used to advertise products which have been photo-shopped beyond reality.

Unfortunately, our brains are engineered to respond to these exaggerated versions of reality and we develop strong cravings. These cravings are led by our brain’s dopamine response which is one of our feel-good neurotransmitters and we now know this response takes place not only when we carry out a habit but also when we anticipate it.

Often the anticipation of an event is better than the actual reality. Ask any football supporter!

Desire drives behaviour.

The behaviours we know will take us closer to our desired identity often produce a delayed reward, but our bad habits often deliver an immediate reward and guess what…humans respond better to immediate rewards making it harder to be healthy.

So, could we bundle a behaviour which we need with another that we want? This is known as temptation bundling. For example, you could tell yourself that you can only watch your favourite TV show if you have completed your exercises just before?

Another strategy revolves around joining a group of likeminded individuals where you get pulled along by the tribe and surround yourself with people who share a common goal and where your desired behaviour is the norm. It’s easy to fit in with the herd, but difficult to go against it.

Perhaps we could also re-frame the way we think about some of the habits we know are good for us but are hard to stick to. So instead of thinking ‘I have to go to the gym’ we could see an opportunity as ‘I get to become stronger’, ‘I get to improve my mental health’ or ‘I get to increase my life span’. This helps to deliver an immediate reward and increase our chances of maintaining them.

For the full message go to the free resource section on the lornhealthyoptions.co.uk website.

Rob Graham, Lead Exercise Professional, Healthy Options.