Bunnies and Seeing Better Results | TMOHP Episode 052

Today I’d like to tell you a story about a quirky habit and how it relates to the neuroscience of happiness. We’re also going to cover how you can use this information to create more positive results when you’re working to change your eating habits or break cycles with emotional eating. AND (stick with me), I’m going to tell you how all of this can help you create momentum and ongoing motivation when you’re in the midst of change.

This sounds like a lot- I know. And it all starts with counting bunnies on my runs.

In this episode:

  • My rather odd running habit
  • Our neurobiological preference to notice the negative
  • What counting bunnies has to do with creating peace with food or changing overeating patterns
  • The power of writing things out instead of just thinking them through

Featured on the show:

Episode Transcript

Hello everybody. Today, I want to talk with you about something you can do to see better results and how doing this thing and seeing better results will affect your momentum and your motivation. But first I have a story to tell you about, well, it's just a fun little fact about me. When I go for a run, which is most mornings in the spring and the summer I do this thing where I count Bunnies. Bunnies like bunny rabbits. So I go on my run or sometimes it's a walk. And as I'm out, I have this little, project in my head of keeping track of how many bunnies I see. And in the spring and in the summer, there tend to be a lot of rabbits around in the area where I go for my runs. So I'm running and I'm looking for rabbits and I am counting them as I go.

Here's the thing about counting rabbits. And by the way, my record for one, one run was 33 rabbits, and that was last summer and I've been trying really hard to beat it this summer and I've made it to 31. But you have to remember something if you want to count rabbits, you have to remember it that you're counting rabbits.

So I can go out for a run and I will decide I'm going to count rabbits. And today I'm going to see 33 rabbits. And then I forget. I get distracted or my run starts to feel hard or I'm thinking about the podcast episode, I want to record in my head and I forget to look for the rabbits. And here's the thing about rabbits. They're actually very good at camouflaging themselves. They actually blend right into the environment. And if you're not looking for them, you don't see them. So when I forget that I'm counting the bunnies, I will go for a mile or two, and I won't see a rabbit until one of those absent-minded rabbits just skidders out across the road in front of me.

If you don't look for them, you aren't going to see them. When I look for them, they're literally everywhere. When I have been running and I get distracted and I forget and then I remember, oh, I forgot, I was counting rabbits. And I start looking again, I will almost instantly see a rabbit. And then when I start looking, there's probably one or two other rabbits in the yard with that rabbit that I noticed, because I thought, oh yeah, I'm counting the bunnies.

So what does this have to do with overeating? And what does this have to do with momentum? And what does this have to do with better results? Well, as you know, we see what we're looking for. We see the things and we tend to see more of the things that we are focusing on. So if you're thinking about getting pregnant, suddenly there are pregnant women everywhere. It seems like you see them around every corner. Or if you are car shopping and there's a certain kind of car that you're interested in, all of a sudden you notice all of them on the road. We've all had that experience. We tend to see what it is that we are looking for. 

And there's more, we live inside our beautiful human body that is designed to protect us. We've evolved to survive, and our brain tries to help us with that by keeping us out of danger. And one of the ways that our brain protects us is to being on the lookout being alert, being vigilant for bad things that could happen to us. Signs of danger. So we have these wonderful systems in our brain that allow us to be really efficient when we get scared or afraid or something bad happens. We jump into action without even thinking first. Our whole nervous system is wired that way. And. In those times when we had the danger of needing to be safe from wild animals and predators, it was good to have a brain that was on that could quickly go on high alert. And that was always scanning for dangers. But we live in a different kind of world right now, and the dangers that our brain tends to pay attention to are of a whole different sort. They're not life or death kind of dangers. The kind of “danger” that we tend to face now is more along the lines of feeling disappointed or failing, or having somebody get angry with us, having something, not go well.

And still we have this kind of wiring it's in our neurobiology. So our brain tends to try to protect us by focusing on the negative. Our brain is a better collector of negative experiences. Or, a better collector of things that, could be going better or might go wrong or that we haven't done. Then our brain is better at noticing and collecting those things than our brain is at collecting positive experiences.

So in ancient times if you were going through the forest, your brain would be much better wired to respond to the bear than to the beautiful field of daisies. There's a psychologist named Rick Hanson who studies the neuroscience of happiness, and he sums it up really beautifully. He says that your brain is Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. So negative experiences, negative thoughts, fears things that make you anxious, all those things, our brain latches onto those, our brain takes those in and tends to focus on those and pay attention to those. Whereas positive experiences, happy experiences, successful experiences, wins that you have had, even accomplishments; our brain kind of has a Teflon coating when it comes to those things. Because when you think from an evolutionary perspective in terms of protecting us or keeping us safe, those things aren't important. Those things just mean, all systems go, everything is working. We don't have to work harder. 

So in terms of our wiring, what just comes intuitively to us as human beings, and this is true for all human beings. This is not a signal that there is something different or wrong about you, but innately, we are better at noticing and focusing on negative things than on positive things. So why does a, a psychologist who studies the neurobiology of happiness focus on this? Because it's important to understand. What Rick Hanson talks about in his work, on happiness and on how people can be happier and be more resilient and be more positive, have a more positive kind of stance toward life is that it is really important to understand this bias that the human brain has so that you can work with it. Because if you don't, you are going to always be naturally more focused on the negative and what didn't work. And that's not very motivating and that's not a very successful recipe for, for happiness and for motivation and momentum. The idea of changing your relationship with food. The idea of changing patterns with overeating and emotional eating can feel like it's going to be an uphill slog.

And part of that is because your brain is already starting at the very beginning of this journey to focus on what is going to be hard, what might not work. It, it, your brain is trying to protect you by being Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the good. So when you are working to build that new relationship with food, when you are working at changing your patterns of overeating at night, or paying more attention to your feelings or getting curious and noticing the reasons that you're overeating it is really important to set an intention, to look for bunnies. If you look for bunnies, you will see them. If you don't look for bunnies, you will come back. I'm here to tell you, you can come back from a six mile run and say, there are no bunnies out there.

Or maybe I saw one when there were actually, you know, 44 of them running around between here and the place that you ran and ran back to. It's important to look for bunnies. It's important to look for the things that are working. It is important to take note of the good days. It is important to take note of the things that you did differently.

The changes that you made. Because otherwise you will not notice so many of them, you will not notice your brain will just gloss over the positive steps, the wins, the things that were different today, the accomplishments that you had. Your brain will not only gloss over them, but even if you do notice them in the moment, one of the things that Rick Hanson talks about with this idea of Teflon for good things is that our brain is much more likely to hold onto the negative things. So in the moment you may notice, whoa, I did it, I feel really good about that. Right? I didn't, I had this evening where instead of eating, I actually paid attention to what was going on in my hidden hungers. And I did things differently. But in terms of storing that and remembering that tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning, the way we are wired if we just go with the way we are wired, we are much more likely to, to remember and focus on the things that didn't go well yesterday than to remember because Teflon the things that did go well, the accomplishments, the positive steps. And those positive steps, those wins those signs that things are working, that you are changing, that you are getting where you want to go.

Those are the bread crumbs that create momentum. That's the stuff that gives you positive energy, that, that gives you momentum and motivation to keep going. Evidence that something is working is really important when you are on a journey of change. 

So when you're working to change your relationship with food, you need to count the bunnies. And you need to remind yourself all the time that you're counting bunnies.

Because just like when I go for my runs, you're going to, you're going to start out and you're going to be counting bunnies. And then you are going to forget why do you forget? Because you get distracted because life happens and because your brain is hardwired to be Velcro for the bad. Teflon for the good. Not that there's anything wrong with you.

You are simply a human being and I'm going to keep repeating that because your brain tends to tell you it's, it's just all you, right. So you get to just say, oops. Okay. It happened. All right. I'm counting bunnies. What does that mean for you with overeating and emotional eating? It means that it is really important to have a practice of tracking what's going well.

I think the easiest way to do this is to develop a habit of noticing at least three things that went well today. Three things that went well with your relationship with food. And I'm here to tell you, if you can't come up with three things, then you're thinking too big. You're being too hard on yourself.

Practice because there's two parts to this. One is noticing the things. One is collecting the bread crumbs that are going to give you momentum that are going to keep you motivated. The other is remember our wiring in our brain. By asking that question by forcing yourself to collect three things that went well today, you are working that muscle.

You are training your brain to notice the positive, to take in the positive and to remember the positive. So it's strengthening a muscle a neurological muscle that we don't tend to use, that we don't use intuitively. By using it, you can strengthen it and you can become better and better at noticing the wins, noticing what went well, creating a little more stickiness, a little more Velcro-ness on that part of your brain that, that notices and retains the, the good things you know, the accomplishments, the wins, the successes. The practice of taking notice of what went well and literally writing it down. I, I really recommend that you don't just do this in your head, but literally writing it down, often by hand is really powerful. 

So I'll give you another example. When I work with clients, one-on-one. When I'm doing individual coaching with a client, one of the things I have them do is fill out an update form that they send me before each of our sessions.

And so they'll email me this form that brings me up to date about what has happened. I can't tell you how many times this update form starts with a sentence that is negative. So often I will get an update form and the first sentence will be something like it was a really hard week, or I really struggled this week, or I had some very difficult days this week.

Then I read through the remaining answers to the three or four other questions that are on the form that ask about what more specifics about what happened this week. And as I'm reading, and as these questions are getting my client to focus on what really happened this week, I'll start to see some, well, I did this and this happened, but then I was able.

Transform it by doing this," or "I was found myself in the kitchen and I was about to get something to eat. And then I stopped and I thought I'm not really hungry. And so I went outside and I sat on the deck for a minute" or, you know, we'll go, go through this update. And what is not unusual at all, is that the first line of the form will be, this was a really hard week, or I don't feel really good about this week and the last line of the form.

And this is so common will be something like. Now that I am reading what I'm writing here. I'm realizing that I really accomplished some important things this week, or now that I have gone through this update, I'm seeing that I forgot about a lot of, a lot of the positive things that happened this week. And I actually feel pretty good about my week.

I'm not kidding. This happens a lot. And so often my clients will get on zoom or Skype or on the phone and will be laughing about how, how much our brain works against us when even when things are going really, really well, our tendency is to be Velcro for all the stuff that didn't happen and let that other stuff slide by. And that is one of the reasons I have my clients update me every week because it helps to collect some of that stuff and really, bring home some of that good stuff that probably also happened to you this week, that you've already forgotten about.

So count your bunnies. Start a practice of noticing, writing down, collecting three things that went well with the changes that you're working to make every single day. And remember, if you can't see them really question whether you are being too hard on yourself, whether you're thinking too big, whether you are discounting, making them tough, you know, acting like Teflon for the little things, because little wins grow into big one.

Little wins are sometimes the most important changes that you will make when you are working to change your relationship with food. There are a few other bonus benefits to counting bunnies, at least for me. So when I decide, when I set the intention that I'm going to count bunnies, guess what? I see more bunnies. I see lots of bunnies. I notice that there are bunnies everywhere. And remember if I decide not to count the bunnies. I will swear to you, there weren't any out today. I don't know where they all were yesterday. There were 30, there are no bunnies out there today. They're all in hiding. So when I set the intention to see the bunnies or to see the positive things, or to see the things that are working, that are changing, that are growing in my relationship with food, I'm going to see more of them. I'm going to notice them. They're already out there. Just like the bunnies on my run. They're in plain sight. They're just sitting there waiting for us to notice them while our brain is busy, focusing on something else. Unless we set the intention. 

When I set the intention to look for bunnies, not only do I see more bunnies, but I start seeing possible bunnies. So when I'm tracking for bunnies, when I'm running down the street, looking for a bunny, I'll, I'll see something that I'm like, wait, is that a bunny? And maybe it's not, maybe it's a squirrel. Maybe it's like a branch that looks like a bunny. Maybe it's a rustling in the bushes that sounds like it's a bunny about to come out and then a bird flies out.

But all of a sudden, my brain is focused on looking for the bunnies. That's what happens. So if you set an intention to look for wins, to look for signs of progress, you are going to start seeing things that might be progress. That could be progress that could turn into progress. You're going to start noticing more of the good things which feels really good and is motivating.

It's fun to notice good things happening. And that's the other thing that happens when I go out for a run and I have decided that I'm going to count bunnies. And when I remember to be counting the bunnies, and then when I pull myself back and say, oh yeah, I forgot. I'm counting the bunnies again. But when I'm in the counting bunnies zone, I see more bunnies.

I see things that might be bunnies. And I also see more, really cool things that I would've completely missed if I had not been scanning my surroundings for the bunnies. So, you know, I saw three deer yesterday, today I saw a couple of hummingbirds. Sometimes I see bald Eagles, or I see a coyote. When we just leave our brain alone to do what our brain normally does.

Our brain is usually distracted or it is scanning for danger and it is looking for the negative things and it is completely missing the stuff that could delight you. That could add joy to your life that could nourish you in ways that food never will. And that could help you see the progress that you're making, the good work that you're doing and the momentum that you are actually building if only you would remember to count the bunnies. 

That's what I have for you today. It is easier to keep going. It is easier to have momentum, it is much more motivating and it is much more fun if you count the bunnies.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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