Changing habits: It's not just will power

This is a very interesting article in the New Yorker, which like so many websites now, does not allow you read it while in private mode in your browser. And the site has instituted a limit of 4 articles per month. Jerome Groopman is the author, and he begins with the tale of how he became "addicted" to his smart phone.

Addicted is in quotes because I don't think it's being used properly there. Groopman developed a habit of checking his phone every time an alert went off, and couldn't break that habit even if he silenced his phone. So he set out to explain (excuse?) why.
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Long story short: to change habits you have to change the environment around you. Don't want to snack at night? Don't have snacks in the house. Don't want to drink alcohol? Don't have it in the house, and don't spend all your entertainment hours in a pub with friends. Want to stop reaching for your cell phone every other minute? Put in in another room, or even better turn it off.

The brain is critical in any sort of habit formation, of course, which is why an image of the brain accompanies this text. The brain tends to "chunk" or shortcut things we do routinely. The example given in the piece is getting into a car and automatically putting on your seatbelt. You don't think consciously about any of the movements, they are routine or habitual.

The same process works for eating snacks. I've seen it call "entrained" behavior as well. You eat at the same time everyday, and so your body expects food at that time and you don't even think about it. And you've probably created (or found yourself situated in) an environment that supports that habit and allows the brain to "chunk" it and take it off the agenda.

To alter a habit likely requires recognizing how the environment is supporting it, and then altering that environment. Of course, it's not always possible to physically alter an environment— I can't throw out the snacks that the other residents in my home like to eat just because I wind up eating more because they are present. Instead, I have to alter my environment some other way.

Getting slightly personal

The reason for this piece is that I continue to be a bit heavier and less active than I wish to be— and no, I don't think losing a bit of weight would be "eradicating" myself. I just think I would be more comfortable. Since starting the offline business, my behaviors and habits have changed hugely, as has my environment. I bake food all day now, and that means I eat more than I used to eat and move less than I used to do, and the unsurprising result has been about 5-8 lbs of weight gain.

I can't change my environment unless we close the business, and we are at least a year away from that. Nor do I want to close the business, I would like to grow it into a success. So I will need to consider how to change how I react to my environment. Of course, the shop isn't the only place where I eat, and I need to be aware of how much calcium I'm ingesting (because I remain utterly opposed to supplements of any kind). As I've written previously, dairy is dead to me, so I have to get my calcium from plant or fortified sources.

Unfortunately, most fortified foods add calcium by adding chalk (aka calcium carbonate). This isn't the form that the body prefers, and even the specialist I see for osteoporosis admitted that unless you eat it with food it's not absorbed. There are other types of calcium supplementation that is better absorbed, but that is more expensive. And fortified plants milks and chia seeds (two of my current go-tos for calcium) are not calorie free. I have to admit, I'm a bit over the chia-soy milk slurry I'd been downing almost every morning. So I'm looking for a different way to consume chia. perhaps as a cracker, or a tortilla. Or maybe adding ground chia to the masa for corn tortillas. But I digress.

Finding time to exercise hasn't been easy either. I try to do about 10 minutes of yoga most mornings, but have struggled to make that a habit. And finding time to walk on the treadmill has been impossible. I used to walk while I worked, so the change from then to now is stark. I don't think I need to walk as long as I did then, but it would be could to get my heart pumping at least once or twice a week.

I haven't been able to deadlift since I quit the gym. I have, I think, a plan for the eating issue, but I don't have a plan yet for how to increase my movement. And that's where I will leave it for now. Habits can be changed, but it's not a matter of willpower, or at least it isn't only willpower. Temptation has to be removed so that the brain doesn't fall into old patterns.

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