“Comfort comes as a guest, lingers to become a host and stays to enslave us.”
— Linguist, Lee Bickmore
Actively staying healthy requires of us that we leave our comfort zone, and do it often.
Let me explain.
What is this comfort zone I am speaking of? It’s the patterns your brain has formed, your habits. It’s the stuff you do on auto-pilot.
In this article, I will demonize the not-so-good patterns to make a point.
The Doritos, candy and sugary drinks/treats. The eating of food stuff that comes in wrappers that you quickly grab while paying for gas. The actions that, albeit small in size, harm us over time.
Sitting. Lounging too much. Getting too few hours of sleep. Skipping your workout or movement session. The intake of harmful elective medications or chemicals. Cigarettes and too much booze.
We must work to understand more about the process of health if we expect to achieve it, and that starts for you today with learning more about your brain and how it’s adapted to your patterns and choices.
What is actually happening with habits:
Each time you consciously choose to follow through on something (think in the simplest of terms, for example, you choose to get up and get a glass of water)
1-you coordinate a pretty extensive network of brain cells to process the thought
2-engage your muscle systems and move to a new location
3-acquire and ingest the water
4-head back to your desk
Every time you repeat a seemingly simple process like this, your brain get’s a little more comfortable with the action and allows more autonomous processing of the whole experience for you. Think about when you’ve driven somewhere and upon arrival, you wondered where the time went during your commute. Scientists refer to this as “chunking” of time. Also of note, you don’t “chunk” new experiences. No one ever “chunked” their first presentation for 100 people or their first time downhill skiing.
Fortunately for us, we are afforded the neurological luxury to coast through huge amounts of the stuff that our brain can simply complete on auto-pilot. Activities such as scanning for a safe environment by using our sensory systems, keeping the heart pumping along at the appropriate rate and adapting for activity all whilst reminding all of the cells in your body to continue working to keep your biology going. “Chunking” comes in handy, sometimes!
Okay, Dr. Cory, how will this help me with MY brain and MY habits?
The life-changing factoid to take home from this article is that your brain doesn’t care about WHAT action you choose. You can build good quality healthy patterns just as easy as poor quality patterns (we must acknowledge that it’s sometimes harder to STOP a habit, but here we are talking about building new ones). You can literally start “chunking” anything if you do it enough.
The “hack” is to be aware of what you are “chunking”. Do an audit of everything you do each day. How can you change your habits if you don’t list them out? This is a frustratingly simple action to take but it will give you the raw data you need to make healthier habits.
I am here to say that once you identify your actual daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly habits you can start making changes.
I suggest you make 2 columns and write your habits down in appropriate categories like these:
Supports my health | Does Not Support Health | Required to survive | Purely Pleasure | Fulfills Mental/Emotional Purpose
Once you identify habits you would like to change and get to the point in your day that you are going to enact the habit, it is at this most crucial point in your auto-pilot that you need to Interrupt your pattern.
I often have my patients who are working on RECOVERY of stress instead of ONLY MANAGEMENT, place sticky notes in places they are most likely to practice their breathing drills in a way to prepare them for oncoming stress. On the bathroom mirror for that morning and nighttime reminder to calm their brain state with breathing. On the dash of the car so proper breathing continues through stressful commutes, traffic, etc. On the desk at work, so today isn’t the day they finally tell their boss off or karate kick the water cooler over in frustration.
These little sticky notes are a pattern interrupt.
It forces awareness of something that has been identified as potentially harmful. This interruption allows for opportunity to CHANGE the autopilot-actions in the moment.
What to do, what to do…
The perfect “next step” for you is to try to add something new to your skillset. Interrupt your self-dictated “worst pattern” with something that takes very little effort and is in the healthy category.
A common example is to add a movement habit into your routine. This means movement dedicated to raising your heart and breathing rates.
Maybe for you, a great interruption would be to a 10 minute movement session at the point in your day when you tend to be most tired and wiped out. Movement activities give your brain a “spark” of electrical activity that balances body function and chemical brain settings resulting in a more balanced and adaptable system. It’s not hard to get your body moving a little bit to get your brain humming and those recovery systems pumping. Start with a 10 minute walk at 2 different times during your day. It’s recommended by the American Heart Association that we all get a little more than 20 minutes of exercise/movement every day, in addition to normal daily activities.
Don’t forget your attitude when you head out the door tomorrow:
Making a healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight and if you are doing it right, you will have many tiny failures to learn from each week, month, and year along the journey. Don’t let this get you down. No one is perfect and for many of us, trying to be perfect will only be a stressor.
During pattern interrupting, YOU MUST lift your spirits with intention and do what is difficult everyday when it really counts. YOU MUST be happy to try, even if you fail. This is where exercises in identifying and stating your “ultimate why” are challenging, but important. When is the last time you saw someone who is the pinnacle of health, who was unhappy they had worked hard to produce that state of health?
Catch me 10 minutes into a workout and I will probably look as if I have just agreed to pay my property taxes twice this year.
But inside? Deep down? I know that I am prolonging the good quality of life that I am after as I age by moving my body. I see myself in 25 or 35 years with youthful enthusiasm, enjoying life and health. That picture of my future is a pretty huge driver for me, and I attach that emotion to everything that is challenging, but important for me to do so that it becomes non-negotiable for me to stick with it.
Do yourself a favor today and interrupt a pattern from the “doesn’t not support my health” category with something positive and healthy. I guarantee you will get good at that one thing and before you know it, you’ll be chunking a new healthy pattern into your routine in no time.
Don’t get comfortable!
Cheers to the first step in creating healthy, new patterns moving forward!