Master Meta-Thinking and Free Your Sim

If you step back and observe your daily habits from a neutral perspective, it becomes clear that a large part of your day is going through the motions.  From the moment you get up, you perform most of your physical tasks on autopilot.  If you include your reactions to internal thoughts and feelings as well as your responses to others, you will realize with horror that a great deal of your existence is repeating groundhog day over and over.  To change these habits, the first order of business is to observe them without your ego butting in justifications, blame, shame, or throwing shade. Habit Machine

Your subconscious is an unknowable part of your brain that detects cues and auto-responds unless you deliberately run interference in the microsecond between the cue and response.  It automatically runs through the script of your daily routine so your resource-hungry thinking brain can go into idle mode unless you encounter a predictive error and have to engage your conscious mind  (even then you can override reality)You can observe its inputs(cues) and outputs, which include body sensations(emotions), automatic thoughts, and urges to perform habits.  So no, you don’t control the urges but you can work on the cues.

Shaming yourself about your eating habits is an express ticket to learned helplessness, which will ironically reinforce them.  If you’ve done something 10,000 times, it is inevitable you will slip back into an old habit once in a while.  I can work with you to ‘mind the gap’ between your subconscious signals and the real you to change your habits.  These habits include a self-handicapping belief system and exaggerated negative thoughts and feelings that come from internalizing weight stigma and blaming yourself instead of the faulty science and psychology behind typical diets.

Quote“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

Habits Should Be Hard to Change

Having indirect access to your habits is generally a good thing since it could potentially be disastrous to have the ability to delete them.  Imagine we were able to play a drinking game with friends and dare one to erase their ‘how to drive a car’ habit.  It might temporarily be hilarious when he takes the dare and deletes the habit.  He then one-ups the dare and challenges someone else to delete their ‘how to walk’ habit. HA!HA!HA!…delete.  That guy in turn dares you to delete the “how to speak” habit and you laugh uproariously and delete it.  Next thing you know one guy can’t drive home, one is crawling around on the floor, and you are pacing around babbling.

Sounds like a typical frat party, aside from the fact you’ve permanently erased these abilities, and rebuilding them back to baseline would take months, years, or decades.  Despite not being in control of your habits, you are in charge of them and can change them.

The conscious mind is “a supporting character who believes herself to be the lead actor and often has little idea of what’s going on.” -Daniel Kahneman

What Does This Have To Do With Eating?

I’m not saying that you are totally unaware of what you’re eating, but the choices of what you eat, how much, and when are mostly habits and can be affected by external cues rather than hunger.  People tend to eat a certain percentage of their plate, copy others, and accept a serving as what is given to them.  Wasting food is strongly discouraged even though that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re eating and not hungry. Even the starving children in Africa trope some parents peddle is bogus since they actually have the healthiest diets on the planet.  

When, if, and what you eat for breakfast is usually the most rigid habit.  Lunch depends on your route to work, the eating options near it, and your coworker’s habits unless you bring your own food.  Dinner depends on your family’s habits, what you have at home, and the options for eating out/delivery out you have available. Snacking and having food sold everywhere has been completely normalized instead of discouraged, and the average person eats on 5 occasions per day.  Marketers exploit this by advertising ‘fourth meals’ and promoting pop-tarts as snacks.

The busier you are, the bigger rut you can be in.  Working women with kids rotate only 9 different meals on a regular basis and are probably not an exception.  The food environment is a minefield of ultra-processed food with added sugar, products with false health claims, cheap fast food, and too many ‘easy’ buttons that allow for pressing a touchscreen a few times to get instant gratification.

Which grocery stores you go to and what food you get are also habits.  These factors get upended when people go through a major life event like moving, getting a new job, or having a breakup/new relationship. People who go through such an event are more successful at changing their habits because their environment has been substantially altered and the cues are gone.

The cues your subconscious uses to perform a habit are time, location, event, emotion, thought, other people, or sensory (hunger, visual, smell, sound). It can start the habit before your conscious brain catches on, and can even be delayed until after you perform the habit.  I’m sure you’ve heard of someone who drove to their old house, pulled in the parking lot of their previous job, or went to school on a day off and wondered how the heck that happened. While your conscious brain is meandering everywhere but the present moment, your subconscious performs your habits automatically.

This is exactly why typical diet advice fails.  You are told to monitor and change all of your eating at once with foods you may not even like, cut off your favorite foods, or weigh everything you eat.  This is mentally exhausting for your conscious brain, causes stress, feelings of deprivation, and depletes your reserves for doing the actual things your thinking brain was designed to do.  It never addresses your old habits and changes them, but is instead a temporary pattern that leaves you stranded once you’ve lost all your weight.  If you even managed to get that far.  

You Can Hack Your Subconscious with Feelings

You cannot reason with your subconscious brain because it is a nonverbal toddler that communicates with feelings and prioritizes what feels best RIGHT NOW!  It only sees the here and now and doesn’t see that your actions may very well make you feel worse two minutes from now. This is why your thinking brain understanding what you need to change isn’t going to automatically change your habits.  Convincing the subconscious with facts would be like giving a lecture with charts and graphs supporting the benefits of sleep to a colicky baby.

In our current food environment, your subconscious is blissfully unaware that you have over 200 food choices to make in a day and defends your eating habits like you were in prehistoric times of scarcity.  To change your habits, you have to reward your subconscious for a new habit just as you would a toddler learning how to walk.

When an actual toddler takes a couple of wobbly steps before they go ass over teakettle, you cheer like they’ve won an Olympic medal.  You don’t dismiss them and say “it’s only two frigging steps, get back to me when you win the Nobel Prize”.  Unless you’re an asshole.  I’m willing to bet you are being one to your internal toddler in a way you wouldn’t dare with anyone else’s.  It’s time to reform your ways before I call CPS!


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