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How Thoughts Become Habits

By Michelle May, M.D.

Large bags of Halloween CandyHalloween can be a challenging time of year when you have diabetes. Every time you open your cabinets you might be faced with this…Candy!

This can set off a chain reaction of thoughts and feelings, conflict and struggle, and sometimes overeating and high blood sugar. And it all starts with a thought.

Pause for a moment to consider the thoughts that might arise when you see candy in your cabinet.

 Rewire Your Brain

It’s essential to realize that what you think causes you to feel a certain way. That, in turn, causes you to do certain things that ultimately lead to specific results. It’s a chain reaction we call TFAR-your Thoughts lead to your Feelings, which lead to your Actions, which lead to your Results, and this reinforces your initial thoughts. In other words, your thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Am I Hungry? TFAR graphicThat is how thoughts become beliefs. Beliefs then become automatic thoughts that drive your behaviors-in other words, habits.

If you don’t like your results, ask yourself what you were thinking first.

It’s common for people to try to change the actions and results they don’t like without first recognizing and dealing with the beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that led to those unwanted actions and results in the first place.

Granted, it’s not always easy to recognize when a thought is driving unwanted results, especially if you’ve been thinking a particular way for a long time. Thinking thoughts that lead to undesirable results is a habit – a habit that can be changed through mindfulness.

How Mindfulness Helps

Many people react mindlessly to their thoughts. In other words, they re-act-repeating past actions again and again-feeling powerless to change. For many people, eating is a mindless reaction to their unrecognized or unexamined thoughts. However, your thoughts are just thoughts. Thinking a thought doesn’t make it true or important, or require you to act on it. In fact, a thought doesn’t even need to provoke a specific feeling.

Mindfulness is awareness of what is happening in the present moment-including awareness of thoughts-without any attachment to whatever you notice. Mindfulness is helpful because it creates space between thoughts and actions. By increasing your awareness of your thoughts, you can begin to break old automatic or habitual chain reactions between your triggers, thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Each time you choose not to activate your old trigger-thought-feeling-action-result sequences, you weaken the connections. It’s as if the wires rust and eventually break. Further, each time you choose a different action, you create a new connection. With repetition, you’ll hardwire these new pathways-like insulating the wiring. Your new thoughts and responses become your new habits.

What are the old thoughts you have about Halloween candy? How can you create new thoughts that will get you the actions and results you want?

(This is an excerpt from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body.)

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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