Living a healthy life begins with forming healthy habits. Optimum health and weight loss are not simply about nutrition and exercise. I believe that failure to keep to a diet is not a lack of willpower or motivation. Our outer acts simply follow our inner motivations and thoughts. That is why we need to start with the source of our actions. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before we revert to our original habits—even with the best intentions and resolutions. If we ignore the mind/body connection, we cannot have long-term success, even with the most advanced nutritional principles.
CREATURES OF HABIT
Often, we really want to change, and yet we don’t succeed.
It is so hard to change because we are creatures of habit. However, you have the power to change because as a human being, you have the uniquely human quality of free will. There are certain steps you need to take in order to make that change possible, and I’m going to take you through them. First, you need to better understand the mechanism of habit.
The Master Physicians write: One of the most powerful forces of human nature is habit, irrespective of whether these are actions or preconceived perceptions…For instance, you may choose bad foods to which you are accustomed over good foods to which you are not accustomed [even though it is the less correct choice].[i]
Maimonides makes this same point: Within human nature there is a love and inclination toward one’s habits. For example, people of the desert, notwithstanding the difficulties of their lifestyle, dislike the towns and their amenities because they are used to their way of life. Similarly, a person has a love for opinions to which he is habituated and he is protective of opinions with which he has been brought up. This prevents a person from recognizing the truth. A person seeks opinions, which support him in that which his nature inclines. This is true whether it is a result of a natural disposition or an acquired characteristic.[ii]
We all know our own particular habits that haunt us. Maybe your “poison” is late-night snacking. Perhaps you start each day on track and fall apart during the day. You may suffer from heartburn every night. Before going to bed, you resolve to eat better the next day. I remember getting on the scale in the morning and gasping, “Wow, there must be something wrong with this scale!” After confirming that the scale was in fact accurate, I would resolve to eat better for the rest of the day.
The next day—or perhaps even a few hours later—the cravings begin and old habits creep back. At first, you may resist temptation, but eventually you say to yourself, “What’s the difference? Just one; one can’t hurt.” But one excursion becomes two, and before long, it’s back to the heartburn at night and the “scale fright” in the morning. What happened to that powerful moment of inspiration? What happened to the firm resolution to eat better? Surely the desire to prevent pain at night and anguish in the morning is greater than a few seconds of pleasure.
Perhaps it is because the pleasure is immediate, whereas the pain is out of sight for the moment. An animalistic pull for immediate satisfaction outweighs any potential or future discomfort. This cannot be the solution, however, as there is still the person who continues to eat badly, even though he suffers from heartburn right now. We see this when those with severe health problems still continue to make unhealthy eating choices despite the pain or the very real possibility of a fatal attack. There are many well-known cases of patients who continue to smoke in spite of cancer or amputated limbs! The weaker will to enjoy a few seconds of pleasure overpowers the stronger will to prevent instantaneous pain. How and why does this happen? Let’s look at how habits play with our minds.
HABIT VS EMOTIONAL AROUSAL
This is possibly one of the most exciting subjects that I have ever come across. I sincerely believe that after reading this concept you will never look at the world in the same way again. This shows how to break bad habits because we will discuss how habits are formed in the first place.
In terms of character development, what do you think is more significant for the giver—giving one dollar to a thousand different charities or giving a thousand dollars to one charity? In the first case, many people gain, but the overall impact is minor. In the second case, only a single significant donation is made, but it can go a long way to help. Is one better than the other, or is each one equally positive?
Maimonides writes: Positive behavior characteristics are not acquired by doing great (positive) acts but rather through the repetition of many positive acts. For example, giving a thousand gold coins to one charity will not accustom a person to the trait of generosity, whereas giving one gold coin to a thousand different charities will do so. By repeating an act many times, an established behavior or emotional pattern is formed. In contrast, one great act represents an arousal to good, after which that motivation may disappear.[iii]
We see a fundamental principle in human nature. Even a simple habit can have more of an impact on our personal development than a major motivational arousal. For example, you may experience an intense motivation to lose weight because of a health scare, or you may have a wedding soon and need to fit into that dress, but that inspiration can often fade as your grandiose dieting plans loose steam. Setting simple, good eating habits in motion will have a more significant impact on your quest to lose weight.
Why is habit so powerful, and what is really the difference between the first, second, and third time that we do something? After all, it is exactly the same act repeated over and over again. The answer is that real change takes place within, not without. I call this SUBCONSCIOUS HABIT FORMATION.
During my research, I found a small but brilliant book written in the early 1800s called Accounting of the Soul. It gives an insight that describes Maimonides’ view of habit formation. This is the essence of what is written: Learning a new language is a good analogy [of habit formation]. In order for the student to learn how to pronounce words, the teacher must first expend a great deal of effort and skill in order to teach him the different letters of the alphabet. Then he learns how to join the letters together to form words. He must work extremely hard to learn this skill. Eventually, however, through habit, this skill becomes a function of the subconscious, and he learns to read with ease and without conscious effort.[iv]
We can apply this same process to the realm of emotions. There are both conscious and subconscious factors [in habit formation].
Every single feeling, no matter how small it is and even if it is forgotten immediately by the conscious mind, always leaves some sort of impression on the memory. If one then experiences this feeling a second time, it combines with the original impression, thereby strengthening itself. Every time this feeling is experienced again, all the accumulated traces of the previous impressions combine with it.
From here we can understand how the power of habit strengthens even the weakest feelings, and how it creates learned desires which intensify over time.[v]
Over time, the most insignificant string of experiences can accumulate to become strong enough to overwhelm even a major experience.[vi]
This is the power of habit. The outer action may be exactly the same every time you repeat it, but the subconscious accumulation of every minor experience, feeling, and image associated with that act gains momentum each time it is repeated. When we understand this mechanism, then every experience, feeling, and image takes on a new meaning. In fact, this inner process affects every aspect of our personalities and behavior.
HABIT’S EXPLOSIVE EFFECT
The Talmud[vii] says that you cannot compare someone who learned something 100 times to someone who learned something 101 times. He who learned it 101 times is considered to be on a much more advanced level. Why? Is there really such a difference between 100 times and 101 times?
The answer is absolutely!
Let us assume that you have the exact same experience 101 times. Each experience leaves the same one impression on your mind. So you would think that the difference between the hundredth experience and the hundred-and-first experience is still only one impression. However, this is only true if there is no link between the different experiences.
This is where the accumulation process changes everything. As we said above, every single experience, even if “forgotten” by the conscious mind, always leaves some sort of impression on the memory. Every time the experience is repeated, the original experience is revived and reinforced. All traces of the previous impressions accumulate.
In other words, you may have exactly the same experience each time, but the impressions or traces left on your memory are much more significant each time it is repeated. These impressions accumulate and snowball over time because each new experience encapsulates all the previous experiences. Therefore, even though there is just one external experience that separates the hundredth time and the hundred-and-first time, internally there is a difference of possibly 101 impressions—the 100 previous impressions plus the current impression. There is certainly not just one impression’s difference between the hundredth and the hundred-and-first time!
Now what happens if the accumulation of traces is not simply a linear accumulation? What happens if the experiences compound over time? If the impressions retain their impact over time, then the difference between the hundredth time and the hundred-and-first time could be as many as 5,151 impressions! According to another method of calculating compounding numbers, the difference could even be in the millions! No matter how you slice it, it is clear that habits are the result of a very powerful Subconscious Accumulation Process. After sufficient repetitions, we probably experience a colossal emotional explosion every time we have the same experience or do the same exact act!
In light of this, we can now appreciate the above statement from the Talmud. One more experience certainly does make a world of difference. When you think about this, it is virtually impossible to conceptualize what goes on in our brains every single minute! It has rightfully been said, “No computer has yet come close to the brain” (Merck Manual).
The “accumulation of traces” concept also explains why big companies are prepared to spend millions of dollars on constant advertising. It is not just about providing a repetitive information service: advertisements really do play with our minds! We are usually not even aware of the images and feelings that have accumulated in our subconscious as a result of the repeated messages.
Now we can also truly understand how a weaker will to enjoy a few seconds of smoking is able to overcome the stronger will to prevent pain. A nonsmoker will look at a smoker and wonder how he can make such seemingly illogical decisions. The former has clarity of vision because he is psychologically sober in relation to smoking cigarettes. The smoker, however, is trapped in the clutches of a habit that he himself originally set in motion. The phenomenal accumulation of feelings, images, and experiences compel him to smoke even in the face of any logical reason why he should not. The same applies to the person who continues to eat badly even though he knows all too well that he will regret it later that night or the next morning.
It is not difficult to see the manifestation of subconscious habit formation in our constant encounters with food and eating habits. We all have bad habits in our lives: eating a late-night snack, always having a dessert at lunch, having another helping, not being able to resist another chocolate, and so on. What may start off as simple acts, whether overindulgence in food or unhealthy abstention from food, can become obsessive eating disorders through habit. Eventually, all traces of experiences, feelings, and images that are associated with food and eating habits accumulate to form extremely powerful inner motivational forces.
In order to change our established, negative habits we have to create new ones, at the right pace. That is the unique approach of the 5 Skinny Habits.
Now let us understand how this relates directly to food and a transformation >> Go