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Breaking a habit is more difficult than creating a new one…scientifically. To do so, we have to resist the impulse associated with an established synaptic pathway – you know, like the well-established synaptic pathway that leads me to the Keurig machine in the morning…

And, while many of our impulses are benign…or even beneficial…such as when we automatically fasten our seat belts before putting the car into reverse, others are not…and must be overcome to achieve our goals. Habit destruction is most effectively accomplished by parallel habit construction. This is life’s way of asking, will you accept this challenge? The challenge to change…or perhaps the challenge to return to your truest self.

This week, we construct to destruct…we create to break. Step up to the challenge. Your greatness…not your punishment…awaits.

When any behavior or pattern is repeated enough, the synaptic pathways associated with that pattern get used to being accessed. As a result, it becomes easier for impulses to travel along those pathways, and the behavior seems ‘natural’.” ~ Julia Layton

Is it a lack of discipline or a lack of a synaptic pathway that keeps us from staying on-course? Depends. Do you prefer to feel guilty and ashamed…or compassionate and hopeful? We are what we repeatedly do. Repetition leads to results because it paves a well-traveled pathway…in your brain…from your heart. Your heart leads everything. It houses our desires. Conviction and rationalization from the brain follow.

If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, started a new diet, or tried quitting something, you know it’s not the first week that’s rough. It’s the second or third week when the initial zeal wears off and resistance in the form of hunger, fatigue, and old patterns of behavior set in. This is why 21-day or 30-day challenges are so prevalent in fitness circles…they keep participants going after the inspiration has faded and when temptation strikes.

But, what happens after 3-4 weeks? The answer lies in you. Are you trying to make a short-term fix so you can go back to old patterns of behavior? Or, are you trying to make a change stick? Is the challenge-invoked behavior even worth sustaining or possible to sustain? If not, a good question might be…why bother? Are you impatient…in denial…or desperate? If we allow these emotions to run rampant, we become easy prey to deception in the fitness and weight loss industry. As practitioners or consumers of fitness, we have a responsibility and right to end the cycle wherever we can.

Understand the value in this. Once we’re clear and confident in ourselves and our self-worth, we can acknowledge the risk(s) and accept (or reject) the challenge as an intelligent choice. Our intelligent choice. Sustained choice (a.k.a. change) requires adequate repetition plus desire. Desire to change. Are you ready for change? Then, proceed to my 30-day challenge. It involves pizza and can be repeated indefinitely…

To destruct a habit, we construct a parallel one. Parallel in feeling. A good meal or exercise plan takes what you like and “enhances” it with parallel improvements.

1. CHALLENGE your sweet tooth. A 1/4 cup of berries, a tablespoon of cacao nibs, or a slice of cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread can provide sweetness, texture, and flavor to your meal and help you overcome the impulse toward the bag of M&M’s. Look for protein powder in your favorite sweet flavor, too.

2. CHALLENGE the bag of popcorn or chips. Try a spoonful of salsa on your lean protein-carb combo. Did you know that egg whites have more sodium than other sources of lean protein? And, a small portion of jalapeños delivers sodium in a form that lifts the metabolism.

  • Looking for something sweet and salty? Use low-fat cottage cheese as your topping on that cinnamon raisin Ezekiel toast.

3. CHALLENGE overeating at night. Often we fail to match our meals with our energetic output. We burn more calories in the morning after “fasting” overnight and when our activity level tends to be highest. By skipping breakfast or skimping out on protein, we set ourselves up for failure. As our energetic output wanes at night, we overload on calories either out of low intake all day, emotional craving, or simple habit. Balance out the meals better…or trick yourself with a large salad at night.

  • Tips to a healthy salad: Substitute high-fat or high-sugar “fat free” dressings with balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Use healthy fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil or flax oil…sparingly. Healthy fats are great for  our skin and hair, and they quell the stomach growl effectively. Just go easy on serving size (e.g. 1 Tablespoon of oil or 1/2 avocado). Ground extra lean turkey, chicken breast, shrimp, and ahi tuna are excellent lean protein sources, while bison, salmon, and tofu are alternatives richer in Omega 3 fatty acids.

4. CHALLENGE the apple, granola bar…or candy bar. If you’re a frequent flyer or just frequently on the go, don’t pack snacks void of protein…protein is the one thing you “need” to preserve your lean muscle and to keep your resting metabolic rate intact. Pack a shaker with a scoop of protein powder. Add water and shake it up when needed. It will sustain you until your next meal.

5. CHALLENGE pizza…pasta or whatever food you have deemed “off-limits”. Make it healthier. Make it special. Saturday night is pizza night at my place…strategically scheduled after back-to-back classes on Saturday and before leg day on Sunday. My boyfriend orders our pizza from Domino’s…light on cheese and thin on crust…and loads it up with grilled veggies and chicken. Extra marinara on mine. (He calls it Boston-style…although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in Boston who eats it this way…)

6. CHALLENGE the afternoon Starbucks. If your energy levels are dropping in the afternoon, chances are you overdid it at lunch. Try splitting your lunch into two meals…one at noon and one at 3pm. More frequent eating is a principle of bodybuilding and an important way to regulate blood sugar. The key is to keep the portions small so as to not increase caloric consumption over the entire day.

7. CHALLENGE your metabolic furnace. Beyond jalapeños, fasted steady-state cardio and/or (un-fasted) lifting sessions stoke hunger by lifting your metabolic rate via EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, a.k.a. the “afterburn” effect). EPOC lifts your resting metabolic rate up to 36 hours after the session is over. Interested? Proceed to Step 8.

8. CHALLENGE the intensity of your workouts. Utilize super-sets, add heart rate-lifting exercises like push-ups, burpees, or jump lunges, and take stricter breaks between sets (e.g. 30-60 secs). Or, try a class that choreographs this in for you. My favorites are (duh!) willPower & grace and BodyPump.

9. CHALLENGE your mental muscle and plateaus. Think long-term with goals, such as The willPower Method®’s World Plank or Hot by June (can you split?) seasonal challenges, a race, a contest, or any other measurable goal beyond the scale… and beyond 1-2 weeks. Our ability to achieve a goal and realize progress strengthens our confidence and fuels our motivation. Weight loss may be a pleasant side benefit, but our confidence gain needs to be the primary.

10. CHALLENGE your grumpies. Before you reach for the Kleenex, seek solace in the form of daily meditation, yoga, creative activity (e.g. drawing, writing, gardening, dancing), a relaxing bath or massage, and adequate hydration. Start your day off on the right foot with a gratitude list. Minimum of 5. Bonus effect received when written.

Do you want to explore CHALLENGE further? Click here for quotes, mantras and our willPower dedicated weekly exercise!

Sarah Ingmanson

Sarah Ingmanson

Sarah is a studio owner, fitness instructor and competitor. She is a former investment banker and equity research analyst with her MBA from the Wharton School and her MA in International Affairs from the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah is fluent in Japanese and consults with Japanese companies on corporate governance, finance, and investor relations. Sarah's interest in Japan stemmed from her first tour with Disney On Ice as a professional figure skater. For more info on Sarah and her studio, visit www.starslocker.com.