“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit"- Aristotle
If you have ever tried to ignore a box of doughnuts at work, you know how hard it is to keep your hands to yourself and walk on by. And once you walk on by, the battle isn’t over. Even if you are in a different room and down the hall, you can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts.
Why is it so hard to resist something as small and seemingly innocent as a doughnut? It has to do with habit—and mindset.
The draw you feel from that doughnut goes way beyond just a mild interest: you are wired to want it, and resistance is hard. In his book, The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler MD explains the breakdown:
'When you taste foods that are highly palatable (such as foods containing excess sugar, fat and salt), your brain releases opioids into your bloodstream. Opioids are brain chemicals that cause you to have intense feelings of reward and pleasure, as well as relieving pain and stress. The pleasurable effect is similar to the feelings that morphine and heroin users experience. The desire may be so intense that you keep taking one bite after another: it can be hard to stop'.
That explains why you keep eating. But why do you give in and approach that doughnut box in the first place?
Why not just refuse to take that first bite?
The answer is another brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for motivating you to seek out the doughnut, so you can get the opioid release. You remember how good it tasted and how great it made you feel. Dopamine energises you to work for that doughnut. It causes you to concentrate on it and drives you to seek it out.
Once this process happens a few times, the whole cycle becomes a habit that is very reward focused, very ingrained and very hard to break. Your brain’s circuitry has become mapped and wired to want the doughnut. And you don’t even have to be near the doughnut for this process to start--the dopamine can kick in even when there are no doughnuts in site: ever made a run to the store for a treat that you just had to have right then?
Over one-third of all adults in our country are obese. We live in a society in which we are surrounded by highly-palatable foods (think restaurant foods and processed foods).
The deeply ingrained habit of eating unhealthy food and too much of it is widespread. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded not only with unhealthy food but also with a neural circuitry that drives us to pursue that unhealthy food.
Remap Your Brain With Mindset
And now the good news: you can start right now to change the trajectory that you are on.