Train Your Mind to Stay off the Carb Train (And do a lot of other useful things)
If you’re like me you might use food as a reward or as a way to cope with stress.
My inner dialogue: “Congratulations Cara, you did so much work today, you get a burrito. And a quesadilla.”
“And maybe a side of nachos.”
Then I’m binging, and back on the carb train. My stress is the contributor to my carb binge. Yes, the fact that I ate carbs developed my craving, but I ate the carbs to serve a purpose.
Because I’m human, I needed quick pleasure and easy comfort during a rough time. Just as an inability to focus is not an excuse for incomplete work, we need to address the fundamental problems underlying our superficial problems. Instead of maintaining the problem, such as my carb cycle, we need to directly confront the existence of the problem from a biological, psychological and physiological perspective.
We need to treat the cold, and not just the runny nose.
Focus on Focusing
It’s not just eating. Let’s take a moment and focus on our…focus. What is your reason for not being able to focus?
- Do you not like the task?
- Are you intimidated?
- Are you afraid you might have to ask for help?
- Does your cute coworker keep walking by making your mind go elsewhere?
- Maybe you haven't taken a break in two hours (physiological), eaten recently(biological), or are having a moment of low self‐esteem (psychological)?
Technology streamlines habits. Here are a few tips on how you can use that to your advantage, rather than let it form avoidance rituals:
- Set a timer on your phone for breaks throughout the day to increase productivity.
- Instead of hopping on a news feed to deflect an awkward solo session, play some music and be mindful of your surroundings.
- Use a relaxing meditation to focus.
- Find an old Facebook photo to boost confidence.
We have to look deeper than what we are doing to find the right solutions to our problems. Using technology the right way can get us to greater success.
If we aren't stuck in the loop of tech‐improvement, we are stuck in a loop of tech‐ facilitated avoidance. We turn to a device to fill the void of the unstimulated moment, instead of facing work or solitude. We feel awkward or don't want to reply to that email, so the social media feed is a much more enticing way to occupy our attention.
Technology alone doesn't fix all our troubles, but fortunately a solution exists. Unfortunately, it’s not easy. It takes some brainpower, and avoiding exertion is the reason we resorted to technology to resolve issues.
The point is we have to look deeper than what we are doing to find the right solutions to our problems. We want a one‐stop fix, but we can't expect ourselves to change without actually changing ourselves.
Train Your Brain
To cement change, repeated activity is needed for rewiring connections in the brain to form new automatic reactions. Just as you form cravings for certain foods after eating them repeatedly, our automatic behaviors are formed from repeated action. When I am not eating healthy, I lose desire for the taste of vegetables, because I went on a carb binge. Once I notice my diet waning, I slowly increase veggies in my diet, and I am back to loving vegetables.
Just as my healthy tastebuds wane with the presence of carbs and the absence of vegetables, behaviors do the same. Our bodies love to give into temptation, they love to feed our desires and impulses, because it is the quickest way to dopamine release in the brain which fuels our pleasure sensations. Our brain pursues easy distractions at work and in awkward situations, because it has learned the quickest way to relief.
Over time, we train the brain to respond to certain feelings and situations with specific actions, or habits. Like our bodies, our brains get healthier through exercise. So exercise your willpower, and say no to the nachos and quesadilla (but maybe not the burrito). Your body, and your brain, will thank you.
Cara Jacobsen is the Director of Clinical Operations for DataDog Health developing Mindset, a biomedical technology company that manages and measures physiology and mental state toward personalized therapy. She has a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) from St. Louis University.