‘I don’t like cooking. How am I ever going to lose weight and eat healthier?’
This is something I hear a lot, and certainly a valid concern but I would wager it has an easy solution. Now, by no means do I expect you to become a world-class chef. It is about finding what works for you and what you enjoy preparing.
A big reason we tend to dislike new activities or tasks is just that – they are NEW!
It takes a lot of cognitive energy and some time investment to learn a new skill. Think about a new task you were assigned at work or better yet – with COVID. You were comfortable in your current routine; you knew how to do your job and do it well. Along comes your boss (or COVID) and disrupts your comfortable routine with a series of new tasks that aren’t exactly pleasurable. Ie. wearing a mask, washing your hands before going to your desk, sanitizing the copy machine between uses, etc.
We don’t particularly enjoy change. Especially if we haven’t discovered a reward associated with the change required.
LEARNING TO CHANGE YOUR HABITS:
So, there are a few challenges we must address to understand how to change your habits (or build new ones). Of course, it starts with your brain function.
- Anything that is new is uncomfortable. As primates, we avoid ‘new’ or ‘change’ at all costs. 30,000 years ago, new meant uncertainty, or potentially death. This is our first challenge.
- New tasks require more cognitive power – and extra time – which tends to be in short supply when you get home from work and see nothing in the fridge to eat. You haven’t established your habits and behaviours around preparing meals. You haven’t developed the neuronal pathways that allow you to run on autopilot and make food or complete a task with minimal effort.
We cover how to create new habits and describe James Clear’s “The Habit Loop” in this previous blog – https://www.healthcareevolve.ca/how-to-build-healthier-habits/. In order to create a habit we need a ‘cue, craving, response and reward.’ This is the necessary foundation to create the necessary neuronal pathway.
Neurons that fire together, wire together.
HOW TO OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?
In the case of the COVID situation, you are likely forced to do it or potentially be let go, etc. So a new reward of keeping your job and having income gets established quickly and within a week you are probably pretty used to the routine.
What about the cooking example? How do you learn to love cooking?
With all the newest food delivery apps and technology today it is pretty easy to order take-out. The food just shows up. The only work you need to put in is getting up off the couch and grab it, then BAM you get your reward of having food immediately.
Now, there are two approaches we can look at in terms of developing some skills and, dare I say, some enjoyment around cooking.
- As always, start with small sustainable changes over time. Starting maybe with breakfast? I know this requires getting up earlier but you will have more cognitive capacity to prepare a meal from scratch vs. the end of the day. Or start by making dinner 3 nights a week. Maybe even try a healthy meal delivery service like Hello Fresh. A package shows up at your door with all the ingredients and everything you need to prepare a delicious meal – quick and easy.
- OR go for the big kahuna goal. Make a plan to go all out for 2 weeks. Maybe skip the weekends but make a solid effort to do 5 days a week by preparing all your meals at home. It is only weeks of your life. What is the worst that could happen? You learn a new way to save money? This is one technique for developing those neuronal pathways more rapidly. Similar to the COVID example above – you are forcing yourself to create new habits. Don’t try to make a new meal every night. Keep it simple: pick a couple of dishes you have some knowledge of making and put them on repeat. This reinforces the routine and gives you at least a couple neuronal pathways to fall back on when you are really tired at the end of the day.
Either way – one of these methods will get you started.
Focus on developing a routine. You won’t be like Gordon Ramsey at the beginning. That is OK. We just need to start and create the pathways necessary for change to occur. Then it is up to you how far you want to take it!
Give it a shot and let me know what you think?
– Dr. Dan