Your neural pathways are what govern your habits and the vast majority of your behaviour patterns. While motivation and willpower capture most of the headlines it often gets forgotten why you even need motivation in the first place. The reason most people search for motivation is to get them to do the things they are not doing naturally. Your neural connections are those natural behaviour patterns.
If you were to develop a set of neural pathways that automatically made you eat healthy foods in moderate amounts while exercising regularly you would not need much motivation at all.
When your connections support the behaviours that bring results you will find health & fitness goals become not just attainable but much easier than you would ever have thought. For example, if you have never smoked in your life, how much willpower does it take for you to not smoke? Compare that to someone who is trying to quit. The reason willpower is important is that you need it to retrain your neural systems. Once they are retrained life is much easier.
You can create neural pathways to do something new, e.g. train yourself to like exercise, or you can collapse neural circuits to stop your bad behaviours e.g. train yourself to not to eat so much junk food.
Habits are the end product of neural connective training and will determines how you act the majority of the time. If you are looking for reasons why you have failed to get the results you want so far then this area may provide you with the answers you are looking for.
In most transformation stories you can normally see all sorts of ways the person has changed their mental programming. For example, in a blog about 5 cyclists who each lost over 45kg you could see that they didn’t just follow an exercise plan using a bike but they fell in love with the sport of cycling. This could only happen by completely retraining the neural connections around cycling and exercise.
Despite the power of working on this area it is very rare for anyone to actively engage on a programme to develop connections even though it is quite simple to do. This is because very few people in the health & fitness understand the process behind creating habits.
“Good” & “Bad” Neural Pathways
The actual neural pathways are inanimate. They are just operating away within your mind and body. In this sense they are neutral, however, we often label the behaviours they produce as “Good” or “Bad”.
The best way to view any behaviour from a neural point of view is to compare it against its counter behaviour and see it as two sides competing against each other. For example, ‘I eat too much chocolate’ or ‘I drink too much wine when out’ should be viewed alongside an alternative option such as ‘I eat healthy snacks’ or ‘I enjoy a night out without drinking’.
At this point you can then weigh up how many connections you have in support of the “bad” behaviour e.g. eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, and compare it to the amount of connections you hold in favour of the “Good” behaviours, e.g. eating healthy snacks, socialising without alcohol etc.
The relative balance between these two sides will predict which behaviour gets done most frequently. The diagram below shows this situation;
In the above example you would expect the “bad” behaviours of Netflix and eating chocolate to fairly regularly win the battle of the two behaviours. This is due to the large amount of connections to these “bad” behaviours and much less to the “good” ones. If you really wanted to go to the gym or eat fruit you would need to use your motivation and willpower to override your inclined desires for the Netflix and chocolate.
What Does This Mean For You?
Connections are formed by repeating an action over and over again. To this point, any bad behaviour you have right now or the lack of good behaviour is simply because of the number of times you have repeated it. You do not need to judge, hate or look down upon your bad behaviours. There is nothing wrong with you. So, if you do not like exercise or lower calorie foods then relax.
The ideal situation would be to have many connections to all of the needed good behaviours and very few to the bad ones. To rebalance your connections you have two options, you can look to build up the neural connections to the good behaviours or reduce the connections to the bad behaviours. This is what I focus on whenever I work with someone, yet almost no other Personal trainers or fitness professional take this approach. They instead just ask you try to harder on the old standard plan and this brings the usual cycle of failure that most people are accustomed to.
Photo – Some pictures from different neural connection balances from my book.
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