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  • Helen

Willpower alone doesn’t cut the mustard!

5 steps to creating habits that last


It’s February. How are you doing? How are you getting on with your new year’s resolutions? If you are managing to keep to your resolutions, to adopt new, healthier habits, give yourself a pat on the back. If you began the year with enthusiasm and vigour, but have struggled to maintain the steps you chose to beome a healthier you and the mindful eating or new exercise regime have careered off course, DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP!!

Change can be hard, particularly changing food and exercise habits which are so often rooted in layers of emotional complexity and practical challenges. Our relationship with food can be fraught with tension and contradiction. We eat for pleasure, for instant gratification, to satisfy cravings, to punish ourselves, to fill an emotional hole, to relieve boredom, to reinforce our negative self-beliefs, and we eat food because we have to sustain ourselves. I’ve been there, done that! Becoming more active can be a roller coaster of emotions too. Getting started, returning to exercise can require jumping many hurdles both practically and mentally. If, like me, you are intrinsically ‘lazy’, pushing yourself out the door on a cold, windy winter’s day to stride across boggy fields, or pounding the pavements with the wind whipping your face causing tears to roll down your cheeks isn’t exactly enticing. You may choose the gym as your thing, but, as a client said to me this morning, “I used to love going to the gym to do classes, but now I feel I’ll be judged for the way I look and the fact I’ll be last in the class” These thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves can put us back into our comfort zone and stop us in our tracks however well intentioned we are. Time for many of us, is another challenge both in terms of what we eat and when and how we move our bodies. Lack of time can derail us at the starting block. Money too can be an issue impacting on our food and exercise choices.So making changes, ( probably stating the bleeding obvious) is HARD, especially if we are relying on WILLPOWER!

Saying to ourselves “ I need to lose weight and get fitter and so I’m cutting carbs and jogging 4 times a week”, is a plan, and maybe for some, a very good plan, but for many of us we need a better plan - a cunning plan!

So, firstly, and if this is your first visit to my website, let me say a little about Functional Imagery Training or FIT. FIT uses multi sensory imagery to strengthen your motivation. When we have a strong desire for something , psychologically we use mental imagery. It is what gives cravings their dominance over other thoughts and feelings. Imagery can be highly charged with emotion and incredibly strong. Often though we use imagery around less positive desires. Try this little experiment- Just for a moment, close your eyes and Imagine if you will your favourite snack. Hold that image in your mind, visualise it, imagine physically holding it, feel it in your hand, can you smell it or hear the rustle of the packaging, hold it up to your nose, can you almost taste it? Would it crunch in your mouth or is it soft? How would it taste? Ok, so stopping now, reflect on that image. How vivid was it? Which sense for you was the strongest? How vivid was the imagery? For most, it’s incredibly strong.

FIT uses the power of imagery to imagine how your life can be if you make positive changes. It trains you to imagine how it will feel to be the you you want to be in very powerful ways and to imagine the steps you have chosen to take to get there. It gives you the tools to turn negative cravings into positive ones, creating a different mindset. Another client described it as ’flicking a switch in her brain’ so that she now practices her imagery daily and is relishing the journey towards reaching her particular set of goals.

Blended with a person centred counselling (motivational interviewing) approach, we look at the WHAT, WHY and the HOW you want to make behaviour changes, putting you firmly in the driving seat so that your plan is meaningful to you, achievable and sustainable.

The results have been amazing for clients in so many ways. Fantastic reports of continuing weight loss, more energy, clients enjoying exercise, a reduction of painkillers, prioritising themselves for the first time in too many years, a sense of finding themselves again, better sleep, more contented, more empowered etc. Pretty good, huh? (and no mention of boot camps or diets!)

Alongside FIT, these are my recommendations for you to put into place :

  1. The WHY. Thinking of making changes? Ask yourself WHY? Why do you want to make changes? What will you get from making those changes? Who else will benefit? What will happen if you don’t make those changes? Imagine some time in the future, having altered your habits, how you feel, look, how you are. Pick a special time, a place, an event and imagine yourself there as the ‘new’ you. Enjoy the feeling knowing that because you made changes you have reached a better place. The WHY is everything!

  2. HOW? How are you going to reach your particular goal? Is it real? Is it achievable? Does it relate to your life? Is it something you feel you could enjoy doing? Remember, the journey is as important as the end point and if you are able to take pleasure in it, you will be more likely to stay with it.

  3. Willpower alone won’t cut the mustard! When I turn my lights out and my last thought is that I’ll wake up in the morning and go for a run in the soft light of dawn, then in reality, I can’t see for thick fog or driving rain, my willpower goes out the window into the dank winter’s day. When I’ve been virtuous in my mindful eating but always just that tiny bit hungry and someone says ‘cake?’ I’m all over it like a rash justifying every last crumb with the thought that, well, I’ve been so good, surely I deserve it. All well and good and nothing wrong with cake per se, but it illustrates how willpower can be a fickle friend. We could instead, ensure we set ourselves realistic goals, think more mindfully about our steps to better living, go gently, be measured and have strategies to use alonside willpower (Imagery techniques for example).

  4. Be realistic about changing our habits. Don’t expect overnight success. Psychologists say that it can take 66 days for a new habit to become automatic. For some less, some longer. One client has reported that in 2 and a half weeks, her imagery practice has become automatic, has become a habit driving her forward to achieve her goals. Another client has found he automatically goes to the fruit and veg aisle for a snack rather than the bakery section a month after our first meeting. We’re all different. However, whatever tools and techniques we use, we have to be reasonable in order for new habits to become sustainable habits.

  5. Be kind to yourself! Once you have reflected on the WHAT, WHY and HOW, and set yourself measurable, achievable, sustainable goals which you are living now, sometimes you may find life throws a curve ball at you, which seems to derail you from the plan. Please don’t beat yourself up about it or feel that you are weak. Recently I heard a fitness guru use the word ‘weak’. It annoyed me somewhat! If you depart from your healthy eating plan, miss out on a run, find you have put on 2lbs instead of the expected loss, berating yourself or worse, despising yourself is the certain route to self sabotage. FAIL= first attempt in learning. Be compassionate to yourself and you are more likely to get back on the horse and succeed.

Finally, well done if you are still sticking to those new year’s resolutions and double well done if you have decided to make new habits that will make a positive difference for you for the rest of your life!

Contact me to find out more about how FIT can help you.

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