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How to train your brain to reach 2017 health goals

Getting into a healthy routine is all to do with what's happening between your ears.
Getting into a healthy routine is all to do with what's happening between your ears. VeraOsco

A NEW pair of gym tights and some fresh Nike kicks might seem like the key to making 2017 your year to get fit and healthy, but the secret ingredient isn't the lycra - it's what's going on in your head.

We had a mind-opening chat with Brisbane-based clinical psychologist Dr Matthew Worthington to find out his tips and tricks on how to train your brain to reach your goals.

He said it started with understanding why we, as humans, work the way we do, and why binge-eating and lazing on the couch is a bad habit we find so appetising, and one that is difficult to break.   

"It's all about energy - we want immediate energy, to conserve it and avoid energy-thieving sources" he said.

He used the example of a junk-food binge as immediate energy - it makes you feel full, satisfied and energised - which we then don't want to give up. Naturally our bodies want to conserve that energy, not expel it.

So how do you motivate yourself to want to get fit and healthy, when your brain is telling you it wants to watch another six episodes of Westworld and eat takeaway?

You explore these five psychological areas:

It's all about reciprocation

Dr Worthington said humans were wired to respond to reciprocation.

"It's about benefit for the burn - what will I get back immediately from burning this energy," he said.

"We could say 'I need to go running', but then we might think 'it takes a lot of energy and then I'll be exhausted and I won't get much back in the short-term'."

If you can find something that gives you immediate return, you'll be more likely to engage in it.

Simply the feeling of elation after a good workout can be all the body needs to want to do it again.

He said it dated back to tribal days where humans relied on reciprocation from others to feel safe - for example, 'I'll get you some water if you get me some food'.

He said accountability to a trainer or coach was a good start because the praise from the coach after a session was a form of reciprocation the body craved.

"You may think 'I'll do this more often because I want more praise."

 

Break your behaviour chain

Humans are beings of routine. We wake up, have a shower, eat breakfast, walk to work, get a coffee, go home, go to sleep, then do it all again the next day.

Dr Worthington said the best way to train your brain to do something new, was to break this behaviour chain.

"If you want to start running (target behaviour), don't focus on that straight away. Look at the distal behaviours (the other elements around it)," he said.

"Try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed, ordering a different coffee, or walk a different route to work.

"Make little changes that will give you that sense of winning and build your confidence.

"It helps you realise it's safe to change and you're more likely to go running - your target behaviour."

Brain association can be great for motivating you to exercise.
Brain association can be great for motivating you to exercise.

Use brain association

Sometimes when we hear a certain song, or see a particular movie, we automatically think of another time or place when that same song or movie was playing. It's called brain association.

Dr Worthington said this was great to get you motivated for exercise.

"Put on music that was playing when you achieved something great or felt good - even if it was five years ago - and it will bring back that mood state," he said.

 

Plan for a relapse

Everyone relapses. It's a fact.

"Even personal trainers relapse when it comes to exercise," Dr Worthington said.

"So you need to put a strategy in place and plan for it.

"It might be where a coach comes in or a support network, but know you will relapse at some stage and understand it's not a sign of failure - it's part of change."

 

Address trauma

Dr Worthington said often habits and behaviours were a result of a trauma or an event that "caused an elevated heartrate and a distressing moment".

"Because of trauma, we keep drinking, smoking, taking drugs or whatever the bad habit is, so it's important to recognise if there is something deeper going on and address it so you can feel better about yourself and more easily cope with change."

 

If you've got the new gym clothes ready to go and were just struggling to find the motivation to use them, take Dr Worthington's advice on board and train your brain to reach your goals.

For some inspiration and motivation, check out the Join the Movement campaign. 

Topics:  health psychology



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