There are ways we can ‘hack’ neuroplasticity to create the outcomes we want. Let’s say, for example, you want to make healthier eating choices more often. When ordering a meal, you might currently have a default reaction to choose junk food – because that ‘path’ in your brain is well-trodden. Now, the first thing you need to do is become aware of this pattern – which you’ve already done in the form of recognising you have a goal to be healthier.
From here, you can interrupt your default thought pattern to try and break this habit and replace the thought pattern with a better one. This sounds easy, but it’s not always easy to put into practise – especially when other things are vying for your attention, like when you’re out at a restaurant and chatting with people.
Let’s say you’re looking at the menu and you’re tossing up between a healthy choice and an unhealthy one. One technique you can use is mental and verbal affirmations – saying to yourself, “I’m the kind of person who picks the healthy option.” Then, maybe you turn to who you’re eating with and say, “You know, normally I order junk – but today I’m going to go with something nutritious.” By verbalising the thought, you’re doubling down and helping to wire that choice into your brain. You could even ask the waitstaff what they recommend in terms of healthy options, as hearing them describe it will help you internalise the better choice. I’ve even made a healthy habit hack of proactively saying, ‘Thanks, that sounds yum and good for me’ in response.
All these little triggers and tricks can work together to affect your behavioural outcome. This is the cognitive bush-bashing that’s clearing a new path in your brain – one that points to your desired outcome. When the food arrives, you can again affirm that you made the right choice. Say to yourself, “Wow, this looks delicious. I’m so glad I didn’t order junk food.” By this point, you’ve got your mental machete out and you’re clearing out all the scrub in your new path.