Willpower: It’s all in your head!

With it being early in the New Year, I have read several articles addressing willpower and how to best obtain it.  While I promised myself I wouldn’t blog on New Year’s resolutions, especially about dieting, I couldn’t resist talking about willpower since I don’t have much, if any, about anything and I finally see a glimmer of hope.  

The reason I am writing about this topic now, even though I said I wouldn’t, is because I received a brochure for a seminar for health professionals titled, How The Brain Forms New Habits:  Why Willpower is Not Enough.  The one-day seminar will include information on why habits are so difficult to change and how they govern how we think and act.  So far so good.  The session is broken up into the following sections:  Reward Centered Habits, Using Your Brain to Form New Habits, Threat-Based Mental Habits, Overcoming Threat-Based Mental Habits and Initiating and Maintaining Healthful Habits.  

As you would expect since this course is for health care professionals, the focus is on caring for others and facilitating change in their behavior (some life-threatening) by understanding barriers and working through challenges.  While at the class, I am optimistic that I can also self-reflect and learn more about the habits and coping behaviors that keep me from reaching my own personal goals.  My biggest failures being diet and exercise.  Last year, I decided that I would not purchase, for myself, any new clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, etc for a year.  I lasted 3 weeks.  A pitiful but realistic example of my willpower and why I don't stick to diets long enough to make a difference.  

You would think that entering a new year and believing strongly in healthy eating and exercise, I would be trim and toned.  NOT and I wonder why since I have the time and just about any exercise machine available in close proximity.  

In one of the sections of this seminar, there will be information on the addictive features of comfort foods and changing reward based habits.  Much of this centers on the physiology of the brain and where programming happens, which for those who care is the basal ganglia.  The basal ganglia are a storehouse of bad habits, but you can also change those habits with intentional goal-directed behaviors.

I was reading a review article that I found in Neuroscience magazine titled:  “ The role of the basil ganglia in habit formation” published in the June 2006 by: Henry H. Yin and Barbara J. Knowlton. Before I talk about the article, I just want to mention that the basil ganglia are a set of nuclei located in the cerebrum area of the brain.  I promise not to go on about the anatomy and physiology, since I am not an expert on neural functioning and only want to talk behaviors. Back to why I am mentioning this. Within the article there is compelling research on conditions that lead to habit formation.  Since I know that research has shown that habits can be changed, hopefully at the course, I will learn more about how to form different habits.  Importantly, I want to change my behaviors in a way that will make a difference to my health and learn how to help others do the same if they want my assistance.  

I will be making every effort to attend the seminar with the only barrier being the dates.  If I do attend, you will hear more from me about this.  If not, I will be disappointed but will try to do better anyway changing old habits and welcoming new and I won't blog about this again until 2013.   

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