New Year- New Me! – Didn’t I say that last year?

If I know what I should eat and drink and more importantly what I should not eat and drink, how often I should exercise, how much sleep I should get each night and what makes me feel healthy, what stops me from making those wellbeing choices?

According to the World Health Organization, 60% of illnesses are estimated to be caused by lifestyle, so preventable, and they forecast this to increase to 70% by 2030!

Unless you have been living in a cave over the last decade or so, you should be aware of what promotes Wellbeing in your life and what does not. Am I wrong?

You know that it is better to eat an apple, instead of a cookie. It is better to drink water, instead of gin. It is better to go for a walk than slob on the couch all day and that it is better to go to bed at 10 pm rather than binge watch a Netflix series until 2 am!

We could maybe excuse our parents or grandparents’ generation for not knowing the best diet or that smoking can kill, but what excuse does today’s generation have?

There is a multitude of TV shows, books, articles, podcasts, videos telling us how to look after both our mental and physical wellbeing. Admittedly, maybe information overload!

However, it still amazes me why we all find it so difficult to do what we know is good for us.

Why?

As another New Year starts, there will be millions of people making new year resolutions to eat better, exercise regularly and live a healthier life, however, statistics show that most do not last into February!

So – What is the psychology behind this and what can we do to be one of those people who makes a promise to themselves and sticks to it, at least most of the time?

What are some of the reasons why we struggle to make healthy lifestyle choices?

  • Work overload and Stress – It seems when the mind is calm and relaxed, it is so much easier to make healthy choices. However, when we are overworked and stressed, our willpower is weaker, and the mind tends to choose red wine over green tea!
  • Fatigue – Similarly, if you have not slept well, the temptation is to reach for a muffin rather than yogurt. The mind fails to connect the dots between good health options and bad.
  • Peer Pressure – Have you ever been out with friends who encourage you to have that extra drink or dessert. It is hard to say No Thanks when everyone around you is eating and drinking to excess, and you are the only one wanting to be sensible.
  • Motivation – This will change with time. You may be super motivated at the start, but if the habit change is just too hard to continue, you can struggle to make it last.

There is a great book called ‘’Dopamine Nation, Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence’’ by Anna Lembke, a Professor of Psychiatry at Sanford University in which she writes, ‘’humans are the ultimate pleasure seekers.’’

She explains how we are all wired in our brains to be always seeking the next Dopamine hit, the chemical released in the brain when we pursue pleasure.

She explains about the pleasure/pain balance in the brain and why too much pleasure and hence too much dopamine causes an imbalance in the brain which ultimately leads to stress, as the brain tries to get back to the ideal balance state of homeostasis.

She discusses how we have become overindulgent in modern society, always reaching for that extra pleasure experience, be it in food or drink or shopping. This has increased anxiety in the world rather than made us any happier.

The more we get addicted to that dopamine hit, the more we want, which is why we continue to make unhealthy choices, even though we know better

Finding ways to hold back on that pleasure urge is hard to do. However, ultimately, holding back on the pursuit of pleasure builds our Resilience and power.

On a personal note, I completely agree with Anna and her thoughts on overindulgence.

I have been on several Yoga and Detox Holidays, which I would highly recommend as a way to boost your motivation to live a healthier lifestyle.

The mixture of sunshine, being by the sea, nature, and the company of like-minded people motivates me to pull back on the over-indulgence of everyday life and allows me the time and space to reassess my priorities. I have taken these holidays in stunning locations in Turkey, Egypt, Spain, and India.

 It is amazing how good you feel at the end of a week of not eating. The body and mind regenerate. The mind discovers a new personal power that you never thought you had, as you learn to say No to your natural urge to indulge in the pleasure of eating and drinking whatever you want when you want.

It is both a mental and physical challenge, but one that brings so much benefit to the body, mind, and spirit!

I have never felt more alive than after a detox!

However, even though it is a great experience and well worth it, I admit that my willpower to stay on that healthy path reduces with time, and it is not long before some bad eating habits find their way back into my lifestyle! 

Why is it so hard to make the changes we know will make us feel ultimately healthier?

Professor BJ Fogg is an expert on behavioral change and has spent 20 years researching insights on human behavior and changing habits. His book Tiny Habits is worth reading if you are considering changing some habits in the new year.

He admits that changing bad habits when the brain is addicted to pleasure is very hard. Most diets and exercise regimes fail as the bar is set too high, and the person is set to fail as motivation wanes.

His evidence shows that changing to a new healthy habit only works when you connect the change to your good emotions and to feeling successful. When you do something and feel successful, that new behavior is more likely to become automatic and stay with you as part of your lifestyle.

He suggests making small changes and rewarding that success each time will make a difference. 

What also works is when you add fun to the change in habit. The change is not connected in the brain to hard work, discipline, or guilt but to good emotions. Only then will habits change.

For example, listening to your favorite book or podcast when you run or exercise. Sharing your healthy recipes with a friend. Arranging to go to your yoga class with someone whose company you enjoy, dancing to become fit as you love music. Sharing your journey and success with others.

So, as a summary, if you are wanting to start the new year with healthier habits and improve your wellbeing, it only comes with hard work and determination, there is not a quick fix, and as I have quoted before:

“Change is only possible when the desire to change is greater than the desire to remain the same”

Some thoughts to consider as you try to make changes to your lifestyle:

  • Expectations – Start with small steps and be realistic
  • Fun – Connect your change with something that makes you feel good
  • Emotions – Reward your success, but not with a cream cake!
  • Allow yourself to fail – But get back on the path again the next day. One setback does not mean it’s all over.
  • No Guilt Trips – If you fall down one day, do not beat yourself up; you are only human. Change is hard!
  • Support – Ensure you have the right people around you who want you to succeed
  • 80/20 Rule – Think about the 80/20 rule. You don’t have to aim for perfection! Making healthy choices 80% of the time is better than not trying!

It is always worth pursuing Wellbeing goals, not just at New Year!

But try to be realistic and set the bar where you can reach it, step by step, and succeed, not only for a couple of weeks but for a lifetime!

After all, 

“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value, until we lose it!”

Pamela O'Donnell
Professional Certified Leadership and Wellbeing Coach
Pamela is English, however she has been extremely fortunate to have lived and worked around the globe during her career in the Travel Industry. This included working and living in Italy, France, Switzerland, Greece, Russia, North Africa, the Far East, North America, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean. Her wide travel experience has allowed her to develop a global awareness of different cultures and perspectives. She can speak Italian, French and German to various levels and is learning Spanish! She spends her time living both in the UK and on the beautiful Island of Menorca in Spain.

Pamela has worked as a Global Leader, with 30+ years’ experience of managing teams around the world. Her last position was as Director, Global Customer Resolution, leading a large team, based in 15 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.

She decided to step out of Leadership and into Professional Leadership and Wellbeing Coaching after being made redundant, and as Covid-19 hit the world devastating the Travel Industry.

It was time to share her knowledge and experience by helping others to develop. She is interested in using her extensive leadership experience and combine it with her passion for Wellbeing to help others to maximize their potential.

Pamela is also a Yoga teacher, is passionate about learning and development, and has a particularly keen interest in Human Behavioural Psychology. This led her to study Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychology, which helps in her coaching practice.

She loves to swim most days even in the winter, enjoying the wonderful health benefits this brings to the mind and the body. She enjoys walking in nature, cycles, and teaches and practices yoga by the sea when she can. She is passionate about the positive effects movement and nature has on mental wellbeing.

Pamela does, however, admit to having a weakness for red wine and chocolate!
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