If you can understand and apply this concept to your life, you will achieve the change you want with your eating - in fact most important changes in your life you want to make.
You may think that freeing yourself from sugar or ending your binge eating is about willpower. Summoning enough of this elusive stuff to squash temptation into submission. The problem with this is that willpower tends to run out just at the moment when we feel most compulsive around food.
This never works, because it ignores The Pauly Principle.
So...what is it?
In 1993 a elderly man named Eugene Pauly was rushed to the emergency room near San Diego suffering with stomach cramps, vomiting and a sky high 105 degree temperature. It turned out that Eugene was suffering from encephalitis, which affects the brain. He slipped into a coma for ten days, and when he woke up his wife Beverly was forced to face the fact that Eugene was no longer, well, Eugene. Although he could still speak, he could no longer remember what day of the week it was, had trouble recalling conversations, and would often cook himself breakfast without eating it, fall asleep then repeat the meal preparation a while later.
A scan revealed that the virus had almost entirely destroyed his medial temporal lobe, which is responsible for all sorts of vital functions like recall of the past and emotional regulation.
Eugene and Beverly moved to a new area to be near their daughter, and one of the important parts of his daily routine was a walk around the block. The doctors told Beverly that she had to monitor her husband constantly - if he ever got lost, he would never be able to find his way home. After all, he was unable to tell you which door in his living room led to the kitchen.
One morning, Beverley got dressed before their morning walk as usual. She then went to find Eugene.
He had disappeared.
Terrified, Beverley ran round the neighbourhood, screaming his name. He would never be able to say where he lived if a kindly stranger tried to help. What if he wandered into traffic? And he could never find his way home - the doctors had told her this in no uncertain terms.
Distraught and not knowing what else to do, she returned home.
...To find her husband watching the history channel. On the table lay a pile of pine cones he had collected on his walk.
This became a regular routine - Eugene taking his morning walk alone. "Even if I told him to stay inside, he wouldn't remember" said Beverley. Sometimes he brought pine cones back; once a wallet and another time a puppy. Eugene never remembered where they came from.
What has all this got to do with you freeing yourself from your eating issues and shapeshifting?
Think about it. While 99% of people with fully functioning brains are routinely failing to make the changes they desperately want (not just with food, but with exercise, finances, productivity etc), an elderley man with serious brain damage and no more ability to control his life than a toddler pulled off what was, for him, a seemingly impossible feat: a daily walk on his own.
How did he do it? Repetition. Repeat an action enough times, and a process known as 'chunking' takes places, where the brain converts a series of conscious actions into an automatic routine.
The brain loves shortcuts. We can only remember 7 pieces of information with our conscious minds, so once we learn any skill that knowledge gets stored in the subconscious where we can recall it automatically. The ability to read these very words is a skill you learned consciously and with effort at school, but is completely effortless now.
Now as well as being a shortcut seeking machine, the brain is also a survival machine.
And if we do an action over and over, the brain thinks "OK so today when Jill got a craving, she ate sugar. I can see that Jill is alive still. I conclude that eating sugar must be good for her survival, because yesterday the same thing happened. I see a pattern here. Let's make that automatic and easy for her to repeat next time she gets a craving. It has to be goood for her survival, because she is still alive."
Whatever you keep repeating, the brain will make automatic. It even worked for a man with extensively damaged brain functioning.
Let me say it again:
If you repeat an action often enough, it will become automatic and therefore effortless.
You did it when you learnt to walk. To speak. To read. To write. To drive. To use the device you are reading this page on.
This is The Pauly Principle.
Up to this point, you have been unwittingly training your brain to make eating sugar an automatic, effortless response to your sugar cravings. Everything you will learn will be about skills and strategies to support you in taking a different action every time you get a craving.
Eugene Pauly became a subject of intense study by neuroscientists, because he overshot the potential they expected to see in anyone who had suffered this level of brain damage. What I find interesting about this is that we can ALL be Eugene. We can ALL leverage our brains' ability to make any action effortless. It's just that most people look around and find their friends watching The X Factor or surfing Facebook and take their cue from them.
And of course you will have resistance.
Hence the replacements, which will reduce your cravings and give your hand a substitute to grab.
Hence the Cravings Busters, which retrain your brain to take a different action when you want sugar.
Hence The Inner Shifts, which get you to challenge your resistance to the very thing you so desperately want.
You do not need to be perfectionist about this. If you slip up on day three - so what? Just revert to taking a different action next time. And if you are anything like I was, you will have numerous opportunities every day to practise taking a different action. My cravings were constant.
Applying The Pauly Principle takes effort - but that effort is temporary. I reached what I call The Effortless Tipping Point in 12 weeks when I freed myself from sugar, with month 1 being a lot of effort, month two less so, and month three very much the homestrait.
Questions to Discuss or Journal About
Rate your belief in your ability to make avoiding one difficult to resist food automatic out of 10. Be honest!
Make a list of at least 5 things that you have made automatic habits that at one time would have been a struggle. Think especially of actions that others find hard. What would /toddler you/teenage you/student you find near impossible? For example: driving, getting up early, playing an instrument, meditating, using a computer programme, reading, writing, budgeting, exercising, controlling alcohol etc etc.
Now look at your rating from earlier. Has it gone up? If it has, is this because anything external has changed in the last 5 minutes? Or is it because your focus has changed?
Do you think changing your focus takes time and effort? Or can it happen in five minutes?
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