Why do you have so much trouble making better decisions when it comes to food? We know there are pervasive physical, mental, and emotional triggers that could be the culprit. But, mindset could also be a culprit and utilizing one mindset over another can be the extra tweak you need to increase your success rate.

Here’s the deal: your brain has two distinct modes when it comes to behavior. Either it stops something or it starts something. The inherent problem is that the side that starts things is far more powerful and consistent than the side that stops things, yet we tend to always try to utilize the stop side.

Ceasing something isn’t really a behavior, it’s the avoidance of a behavior. The brain likes to do things rather than sitting in a state of limbo. Stopping something is limbo. Starting something is momentum.

When it comes to eating certain foods and avoiding others, you can easily put the brain in the wrong mode. When this happens, the brain defaults to habit because that requires the least amount of energy. Since you haven’t completed your transition to a new lifestyle, the default habit is likely an undesired behavior.

You can easily see this in children. If you say, “stop doing that” and don’t provide any further action step, you’ve just placed their brain in stop mode. This makes the brain hyper-focus on the behavior it’s supposed to stop. Without a “next step,” the child becomes uncomfortable and enters a state of helplessness. The default action is to resume the behavior.

If you keep telling yourself what NOT to eat, your brain will hyper-focus on those foods and you’ll experience the same uncomfortableness until you resume the stopped behavior.

The solution is simple: by giving the brain a next step, you put it in action mode. For a child’s behavior, you rephrase the statement to, “I see you want to touch that but I can’t let you. Here, you can touch this instead.”

The stop mode only last for a few seconds before the brain is placed into action mode. There is very little uncomfortableness because the brain has a new area of focus and something productive to accomplish. 

As a broader concept, it’s helpful to avoid placing foods in a “can’t” category. The best strategy is to have principles for why you don’t eat certain things the majority of the time and then place all your focus on all of the amazing foods you want to eat because they align with your goals.

You have to be careful with language when it comes to food. I use the words “can” and “can’t” in the video, but I’m not using those words in traditional fashion. The reality is that you can do whatever you want; there are no rules. I’m using the word “can’t” because that’s the default description of the stop mindset. And I’m using the word “can” because that’s the default description of the action mindset.

“Here’s what I CAN do” = “Hey brain, look at all of the possibilities!” It’s not about being allowed or disallowed.

A simple way to become more mindful and make sure you’re using this strategy is to constantly ask yourself what mindset you’re in when you find yourself struggling. Am I using the stop side or the action side right now? What’s my next step?

If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them…

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