The Pathway to New Habits

I recently lost 35 pounds in just six months, which I realize is “pretty good” but not earth-shattering. The kicker, though, is that I lost the weight quite effortlessly. And this comes after 25 years of failed weight-loss attempts.

I’ve since become obsessed with trying to understand how I did it so easily. How, after so many years of failure, was I suddenly able to drop my weight to a level previously unimaginable? And how could I do it with such ease?

The basics of how I did it make perfect sense, the food I ate, the exercise I did, etc. But in order to help others, I wanted to understand how my method worked on a more scientific level. What kept me faithful to my strict diet regimen? What allowed me to sustain the progress without quitting? What made this time different from all the other times?

I can explain the “how” in layman’s terms, although most people give me a skeptical eye when I do so. I was stuck in “eternal diet mode” for the past few years when something unique happened last summer. A sort of switch flipped inside my head that made all the difference. But before I go further, I need to rewind a couple of years.

For more than two years leading up to my recent diet, I had been feeding my brain a steady diet of what I call “positive messaging.” You’ve probably seen those motivational and success videos on YouTube, as well as the thousands of self-improvement books and self-help articles found online. I had been feeding my brain with such content for a full 2+ years, for at least 30 minutes a day. Most people scoff at these self-help resources (I did too at one point), but I now know their power when used properly.

I started consuming this content to help push me across the finish line of my Master’s degree, and then to sustain the motivation to complete my first book. I had just finished that book, and was ready to move on to my next big project, when I was listening to one particular video by motivational author Wayne Dyer.

At one point in the video, Dyer touched on how we can achieve whatever we set our mind to, including weight loss goals. Something in that message flipped a switch in my head regarding my ability to reach my own weight-loss goal. I somehow knew, from that moment, that I could lose whatever weight I wanted to lose. You see, if you pump enough positive messaging on success, goal achievement, and perseverance into your brain, it eventually takes hold. You start believing that you can achieve just about anything.

My weight loss was so remarkable that I decided to track everything that was happening to me, both physically and mentally. I even documented what happened in a little book titled Dharma Diet. The book shares the ideas and techniques I used to far surpass my original weight-loss goals.

I am now a firm believer—and advocate—that you can change your mindset and your habits through a consistent diet of positive messaging.

The Key = Neural Pathways

I wasn’t satisfied with understanding my success in layman’s terms, so I started investigating the scientific reasons behind it all. It couldn’t be so simple as listening to motivational videos on YouTube every day, could it? The answer, it turns out, is “Yes.” The answer lies in something called our brain’s neural pathways, and the neural plasticity of our brains.

While barely a “C” student in high school science, I have learned in my recent research that neural pathways are essentially the habitual patterns we act out. And neural plasticity is our brain’s flexibility or ability to develop new habits. Unfortunately, we humans tend to get “set in our ways” in early adulthood, and it can be very difficult to change our habits. The more we perform a habit (good or bad), the more defined the neural pathway becomes. The good news is that with effort and attention we can create new, even opposing, neural pathways. And this includes our habits of thought—negative thought patterns vs. positive.

When I was feeding my brain with positive messaging on success, goal achievement, and perseverance, little did I know I was creating new neural pathways. That explains how, after the age of 50, I was able to motivate myself to finish my Master’s degree, write a book (now two books), and easily lose 35 pounds, all in just a few short years. It turns out that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks.

In terms of my weight loss, I had effectively replaced negative thoughts and habits of failure, hopelessness, and quitting, with thoughts of “you can do this, and you can do this easily!”

Below are a couple of articles that delve into these topics of neural pathways and habit formation. I include them here for you to read if you are interested in learning how you, too, can develop new habits, even if you are middle-aged like me. I am a new student of this phenomenon, but I am excited to continue learning all I can, and then share the benefits with others.

With our thoughts we make the world.

buddha

#newhabits, #behaviorchange, #weightloss

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