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Want to Change a Habit? Replace It

By Sandy Schroeder

If you have ever tried to lose weight by resisting your favorite ice cream, you know how difficult it can be. Whenever we tell ourselves not to think about something, our mind darts right to it. You can almost taste the ice cream, and you probably will soon.

Carl Richards made this point in a New York Times article, saying most people have the same problem. The harder someone tries to resist something, the more they may be drawn to it.  They call this magnetic effect the ironic process theory, and it means resistance seldom works as the best way to change something.

That Magnetic Pull

When we try to suppress a thought, it may bounce back stronger than ever. That’s why successful dieters often reduce calories daily, and cut back on sweets, but allow small ongoing treats as they lose weight.

The most successful diet that I ever completed allowed for one small hot fudge sundae each week. Throughout the week I stuck to a lean diet with a plate full of veggies, small amount of lean fish or chicken, lots of water, and low-calorie desserts. I lopped off about 500 calories per day and religiously recorded my efforts. Then on Sunday I treated myself to a small hot fudge sundae. I never felt deprived and I lost 20 pounds over a period of about four months.

Taking away the forbidden fruit appeal of the ice cream really did make the difference.

Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” Without that small weekly sundae my obsession with it might have defeated my diet.

What Works Instead

The best strategy may be to pull a  switch. When an urge pops up to eat that brownie, smoke that cigarette, or skip a workout, don’t resist. Instead, quickly replace the urge with something else.

When you want something sweet, head outside for a brisk walk. Walking often stimulates the brain’s creative powers, and you may return with new ideas for home or work projects with the urge for sweetness completely out of mind.

Other ways to resist could be drinking your favorite green tea, peeling a tangerine, doing a few sketches, or listening to your favorite jazz or classical guitar music. The list goes on. You could do push-ups and jumping jacks, work on your garden, go for a bike ride, or call a friend to plan the weekend.

As you try out this theory, keep building a list of appealing switches. The more, the better. Then when an urge pops up, try another new switch. 

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Lawrenceville, Ga.

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