behaviour change goals weight loss

Successful Behavioral Strategies for Sustained Weight Loss

Gad Saad is an evolutionary psychologist And Professor of Marketing at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). He’s written over 75+ scientific papers as well as writing for psychology today, and publishing several books.

He writes on a broad range of evolutionary psychology disciplines including consumer behaviour, marketing, advertising, psychology, medicine, and economics.

Gad recently shared some of the behavioural strategies he used to help him lose a large amount of weight.

I’ve organised these into 4 simple recommendations

1. Chunk Down Goals Into Small Wins

Perseverance is probably the most important aspect of sustained weight loss.

Take one day at a time, and persevere. The small wins add up over time into big wins. 

Don’t overly focus on the total weight loss goal. Instead, break it down into small manageable chunks or goals.

This is less overwhelming, and helps to keep motivation higher over the long run.

2. Be Specific With Behaviours

Be specific when it comes to your behavioural weight loss strategies.

For example, just saying “I’m going to try and eat less” is too vague, and doesn’t give a consistent reliable measure.

Here are some examples of more specific behavioural strategies:

“I won’t eat more than X calories per meal / day”

“I won’t eat after 7pm”

“I will only eat 3 meals a day with no snacks”

“I won’t drink alcohol all week, but will allow myself 2 drinks on a Friday”

3. Create Feedback Mechanisms

Create feedback mechanisms by measuring and tracking regularly. E.g weighing / measuring daily or weekly.

Failing to regularly measure and track progress is metaphorically like an ostrich burying it’s head in the sand.

Weight gain usually occurs gradually over a long period of time, and without regular monitoring it’s easy to ignore it, and avoid taking action.

Weighing & measuring regularly is a mechanism to intercept this process, and auto correct at more regular intervals.

This recommendation is also one of Layne Norton’s 5 evidenced based habit and behavioural strategies to lose weight that I wrote about previously.

4. Work Around Obstacles

On the weight loss journey, there will be obstacles, such as  injuries, emergencies, distractions, work changes, holidays, parties, etc. 

Cultivate a mindset that expects obstacles and works around them. Don’t allow obstacles to become excuses.

For Example:

With a shoulder injury, walk instead.

Having to work late, do a small workout in front of the TV before bed.

At a party where there will be lots of cake. Eat a large healthy meal before going.

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Anxiety Fear

How Emotions Are Made

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist and psychologist who has been studying the brain for over 30 years.  She is the author of several successful books including How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, and Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain.

A large body of Lisa’s work centres around emotions, specifically the concept that emotions are not hard code into the brain from birth, but rather built by our brains as and when we need them, in context to the situations they are needed. 

“No brain on this planet contains emotional circuits”

In other words, emotions are best guesses by the brain. A result of billions of brain cells working together to predict what action to do next, based on current feelings, previous experiences, memories, and context.

We are born with some basic pre-coded physiological feelings such as calmness, discomfort, comfort, agitation, excitement, but these are not emotions.

The emotion is generated on demand by our brains based on it’s interpretation of the meaning of the physical sensations we are experiencing.

So to illustrate with an example. When it comes to an exam, someone may experience a physical churning sensation in their stomach.

Their brain will run through all previous experience and knowledge of exams, and may predict the meaning of that churning to be anxiety. The brain then generates the emotion of anxiety from the prediction.

However, a churning in the stomach doesn’t in itself automatically mean anxiety. For example, it can also occur when someone is hungry, or excited.

The difference is the context, combined with knowledge and experience. The brain is just predicting “why” those physical sensations are there, and then generating emotions to match. However, as with any prediction, they aren’t always correct.

Somebody else doing the same exam, with the identical churning sensation, but with previous experience and knowledge of enjoying exams, may predict this event to be exciting, and won’t experience anxiety.

Another exam example would be an elevated heart rate. An elevated heart rate in itself doesn’t mean anxiety. Our hearts beat faster when we exercise, and in this context, we don’t normally generate the feeling of anxiety.

Advertising guru Rory Sutherland describes this in a humorous way by liking the mind to a company.

He jokes that “we all like to think of our rational conscious minds as the CEO of our decision making. However, our conscious minds are actually much more like the PR department. Our unconscious minds actually run the show, and our conscious minds just make up a story later to explain why we did it.”

“Ask ourselves: Could this have a purely physical cause?”

One of the tips Lisa gives when we are experiencing unpleasant feelings is to ask ourselves “could this have a purely physical cause?”.

She says this can transform emotional suffering into just mere physical discomfort as many times there can be a physical reason for those feelings such as hunger, dehydration, tiredness.

“Relabel the feeling to a postive emotion”

Another tip Lisa calls “energised determination”. This is re-labelling feelings. So with an exam, it might be relabelling feelings such as stomach churning or an elevated heart rate as “excitment”, or “the mind is increasing focus”.

Lisa does acknowledge that applying these types of techniques, won’t turn everyone into  an emotional Jedi, but do allow us to take back much more control over our emotions.

Mental Rehersal

In my hypnotherapy sessions with anxious clients, I will often help them with mental rehearsal during hypnosis.

Running through future events successfully, whilst feeling calm and relaxed, updates our brain’s prediction model with a greater range of references.

Therefore, when the actual events come up, the mind says “oh, I’ve done this before many times, and I did it successfully, and I was calm, relaxed, and confident”.

Therefore, when mind is much more likely to predict calm, relaxation and confidence are required, and generate those emotions.

behaviour change habits weight loss

Five Top Habits For Weight Loss

All Diets Work

In one sense, all diets work. No one diet is the ultimate best diet! E.g. Low Carb, Low Fat, Keto, Paleo, Primal, Plant Based etc. When studies equate for calories, all diets do about the same.

The best weight loss diet is really the diet that we prefer, and can stick with the most.  This will be different for many people. Some will thrive on low carb, some on low fat, some prefer counting calories, others macros. And so forth. 

“Find the method of restriction that feels the least restrictive to you”

The adherence rate for all diets is pretty appalling, and studies show that more people regain lost weight than keep it off. This illustrates that diets alone, are not always enough.

Habit and Behaviour Based Weight Loss

Ultimately, changing behaviours and habits is fundamental for long term weight loss & maintenance.

Below are five habits and behaviours from Dr Layne Norton for successful weight loss and maintenance. Studies show that these behaviours are very prevalent in people who successfully lose weight and keep it off .   

Layne Norton has a BS in Biochemistry and a PhD Nutritional Sciences with honours, and has published several studies, in areas such muscle protein synthesis and leucine. He’s also an author of several books including his recent “Fat Loss Forever”.

He’s also been a pro natural bodybuilder and pro powerlifter. He’s now bodybuilding & physique coach.

  1. Cognitive Restraint

Successful dieters who lose weight and keep it off employ some type of cognitive restraint.

For Example, Calorie Counting, Fasting, Carb Restriction, Fat Restriction, Points System, Macro Counting.

2. Regular Self Monitoring

They employ some type of regular self monitoring such as regularly weighing or measuring themselves.

This provides very rapid or instant feedback to help keep them on track.

3. Regular Exercise

They exercise regularly.

There is good evidence that exercise sensitises us to satiety signals, and may also help lower our body’s set point as we lose weight. 

4. Structured Programmes

They follow some sort of structured programme, such as hiring Weight Loss Coaches, or Nutritionists, or joining groups such as Weight Watchers, etc.

These people on average perform better. Dieting without a structured plan doesn’t often work out very well.

5. Low Recency

People who did better at weight loss and keeping it off, also considered the effects of their momentary actions against their long term goals.

Considering long term goals into their decision making process, made it easier to decline foods that were not on their plans, and complete their planned exercise activities.

People with low recency would choose their long term goal over their short term feelings.

When I see clients for weight loss in my hypnotherapy practice, a large component is helping them to change their underlying habits and behaviours.

We spend time in our first session, working together to identifying the habits & behaviours that they want to change, then using hypnosis and other techniques to make that process more automatic.

There are other areas we work on too, such as boosting confidence, self worth, and self belief.

This can really help boost motivation and determination to stay the course and engrain the new healthy habits.

Read more articles here

goals habits mindset success

The Rep Effect – How To Achieve Big Goals

The rep effect (rep is short for repetitions) is a body building principle that can be extremely useful when working towards difficult goals, and they don’t need to be fitness related either.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to use “the rep effect” principle not only to dominate the Body Building world, becoming one of the most successful body builders of all time, he also conquered two other extremely difficult domains.

Schwarzenegger went on to become one of the most successful and highly paid actors at that time. He then went on to become the Governor of California.

This is extremely difficult to do, as goes the saying “once lucky, twice good”. Therefore, three times really takes some skill.

One of Arnold’s success principles is the “rep effect”. He understood from body building that every rep moved him closer to his goals.

He calculated how many reps were required, the weight, frequency, diet etc to reach the size and shape he needed to be a professional body building contender.

He then broke this down into a plan, and framed everything as “a rep” / “a repetition” towards achieving his goals.  

This wasn’t just the literal reps of lifting, but the reps of everything. Every meal, every stretch, every pose, every show, every bit of studying. He visualised every bit of effort required as “a rep”, and understood, that each rep took him closer to his goals.

Arnold was well known for smiling during his brutal workouts. He often was quoted as putting this down to his reframing of the pain of every rep into a a postive step towards accomplishing his dreams.

Arnold used the same principle in acting. Every acting class, every audition, every film was a rep that bought him one step closer to achieving the goal.

And the same went for politics. Arnold worked out all of the steps, and saw every step as a rep until he reached office.

“The rep effect” principle can be a really good mindset to adopt when putting in effort to achieve any long term or difficult to reach goal.

For example:

With careers: Every CV, every interview, every bit of research, every bit of skill advancement is a rep.

For Financial Independence: Every payday is rep, every investment, every cut back is a rep

For Weight loss: Every 1lb loss is a rep, every healthy meal eaten, every fattening meal avoided, every workout, every rep within a workout

For stopping smoking: Every cigarette not smoked is a rep.

And so on….

Anything significant worth having, usually will take a lot of work. Staying focused on the end goal, breaking it down, and reframing the discomfort as reps that edge us closer can really help sustain the energy and motivation to accomplish it. It might even put a smile on our faces while we do it too.

Fear habits mindset

The Scorpion and The Frog

The Scorpion and The Frog is a classic fable with many variations. The gist of the fable can be read below.

A scorpion approaches a frog sitting by a river bank. The scorpion wants to get to the other side of the river, but cannot swim. The scorpion ask the frog if it will carry the scorpion on it’s back across the river to the other side.

The frog is naturally afraid and says “no, if I do that you will sting me and I will die”. The scorpion replies “Of course I won’t do that, if I sting you, we will both drown and die. That wouldn’t be logical would it?”.

The frog slightly re-assured by the logic, but still a little hesitant agrees. Half way across the river the scorpion stings the frog. In pain and dying, the frog asks the scorpion “why did you sting me, now we will both drown?”.   The scorpion replies, “I’m a scorpion, it’s in my nature.”


There are many interpretations and messages in this fable, however, the one of the most useful is that the behaviour of some people, is impossible to stop, no matter how kindly they are treated, or regardless of the consequences to themselves and their victims.

So rather than continuing to ask ourselves “why are the like that”, “why do they keep doing that”, at some point we have to accept that for some people it’s their nature, and we are powerless to make them change.

It’s then up to us to decide if we want those people in our lives at all, to limit exposure to them, or accept it.

Anxiety Fear mindset

Are We Caught In A Monkey Trap?

Sometimes, Kalahari bushmen need to find new sources of water to support them on their long hunts. They have learned over centuries that it’s a pretty good bet, that in the areas they need water, the local baboons will have access to water sources.

So they have developed a method to trick the monkeys into revealing where their water supply is. They do this by first trapping the baboon, then making it thirsty by giving it salt. Finally, they free the monkey, and follow it as it leads them directly to the water source.

The Trap

To set the trap, the bushmen will find a location where there are baboons around, and some giant ant mounds. These mounds can be extremely tall and wide.

When the bushmen are sure the curious baboons are watching, they will laboriously dig a hole into the mound with a stick, just big enough so that a baboon can squeeze its open hand into it. They then place some wild melon seeds into the hole, and work the seeds into the hole until they drop into a hollow.

The bushmen will then go and hide where they have a view of the ant mound. Eventually, curiosity will get the better of one of the baboons, and it will go over and place it’s open hand into the hole to see what is in there.

On discovering the melon seeds, the baboon grabs a large handful, clenching its fist tight full of seeds.

The clenched fist of seeds is now too large to pull back out of the hole, and it becomes trapped. All the baboon needs to do is release its clenched fist, letting go of the seeds, and it can easily pull it’s arm back out and and get away.

But instead it panics, screams, and clenches harder. Unable to pull its arm back out the baboon remains trapped for the bushmen to go over, capture it, and tie it up. Eventually, it releases it tight grip on the seeds, but it’s too late.

Life’s Monkey Trap

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.

Sometimes when we are experiencing stressful situations, it’s worth checking if we are holding on too tightly to the stressor, exacerbating it, and thus trapping ourselves.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that it’s our own minds that are responsible for most of our suffering, and that often it’s possible to just let go, and free ourselves.

sleep sleep tips

How to improve sleep from Richard Wiseman’s Night School.

Prof Richard Wiseman is based at the University of Hertfordshire, and has gained an international reputation for research into unusual areas of psychology, including deception, humour, luck and the paranormal.

He has written several best-selling popular psychology books that have been translated into over 30 languages.

In this book “Night School, The Life-Changing Science of Sleep”, Richard explores new peer reviewed research, and mass participation experiments on the world of sleep and dreams.

Below are some of his more interesting techniques to fall asleep faster, and improve sleep quality.

Imagining Pleasant and Relaxing Situations

This technique comes from Dr Allison Harvey, a sleep disorders and mental illness researcher at the University of California.

She conducted an experiment where she recruited volunteer insomniacs, and separated them into three groups.

The first group were given no instructions, the second group were instructed to forget their worries, and the third to imagine a situation they found pleasant and relaxing.

The insomniacs who were given no instructions, on average, took over 1 hour to get to sleep. The group instructed to forget their worries took 40 minutes. However, the insomniacs instructed to have happy thought, fell asleep in 20 minutes or less.

Examples of this technique would be to imagine the perfect holiday, or spending a lottery win, or a fantasy world or adventure etc.  

Note: It’s better to avoid any images that are too exciting or sexually arousing.

Counting Backwards or the Category Game

Stephen Haynes from the Southern University of Illinois did a study using both good sleepers, and insomniacs.

He asked them both to complete mildly difficult maths problems whilst going to sleep, e.g. Counting back in threes from one hundred.

He discovered that the good sleepers actually took longer than usual to fall asleep, but the insomniacs fell asleep faster.

Another variation on this theme is “The Category Game”.  Simply pick a category, for example, “fruit” or “famous band”. Then work through the alphabet from A to Z trying to name one within each catagory for each letter.

For Example, if you choose the category fruit, then A = Apple, B = Banana, C = Clementine etc.

Reverse Psychology – Try and Stay Awake

Niall Broomfield, Medical Researcher at the University of Glasgow conducted an experiment over two weeks monitoring a group of sleep volunteers.

The first group were given no special instructions, and the second group instructed to try and stay awake.

Those trying to stay awake were instructed to only use the power of their minds. So, they could have their eyes open, but no television, reading, or moving was allowed.

The results showed that the group instructed to try and stay awake, felt less anxious at bed time, and reported falling asleep more quickly.

Lavender Scent for Improved Sleep Quality

Several studies show that the smell of lavender can be beneficial in helping people fall asleep & improving sleep quality.

A 2008 study by Chris Alford, of University West of England, found sprinkling lavender oil on bedclothes improved sleep quality for partipants.

Similar results have been demonstrated using lavender scented bath oils, pillows, and blankets.

Yawning to Signal it’s time for bed

Fake yawning can sometimes trick our bodies into thinking it’s time for bed and induce tiredness.


The Power of Friction To Stop Bad Habits and Create Better Ones

Wendy Wood is the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Change, and a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California.

One of her underlying principles on how to manipulate habits is by adding or removing friction.

Our habits are automated and rarely involve much decision making. Using willpower alone has proven time and time again to be really ineffective in breaking habits, and creating new ones.

People who are successful at reaching their long terms goals are very good at structuring their environment to make it as easy as possible to do the habits they want to do (removing friction), and more difficult to do the habits they don’t want (adding friction).

Adding Friction To Break a Habit

An example of adding friction to break a habit can be demonstrated with an experiment at a cinema involving stale popcorn.

Two groups of people were selected to watch a film at a cinema, one group were selected because they rarely ate popcorn, and the other selected because they often ate popcorn.

Both groups were given boxes of popcorn, some boxes contained fresh popcorn, and some contained stale popcorn.

The group who rarely ate popcorn, ate plenty of the fresh popcorn, but as expected didn’t really touch the stale popcorn.

However, in the frequent popcorn eating group, 70% of the popcorn was eaten regardless if the popcorn was fresh or stale.

When asked afterwards about the taste of the stale popcorn, the frequent popcorn eaters described it as tasting awful, yet they still ate 70% of it.

Their behaviour was so automatic, that they mindlessly consumed stale popcorn, even though they didn’t enjoying the taste at all.

Interesting, they ran the experiment again, this time, right handed people were directed to use their left hand to eat the popcorn, and left handed people directed to use their right hand.

After adding this small bit of friction, and interrupting the habitual popcorn eating, much less stale popcorn was consumed. The group had become much more mindful when eating, and were able to stop eating out of habit, and make a more effortlessly decision not to eat.

The British business magnate Alan Sugar, published a book many years ago entitled “The Tiny Fork Diet”. He basically exchanged his regular fork for a tiny fork, even going as far as taking it to restaurants with him to eat with.

His thought process was that it slowed his eating, and therefore, allowed enough time for him to feel full and not overeat. This is also a good example of adding friction to an unwanted habit to disrupt it.  This disruption allowed him to be more conscious and mindful, and build better long term eating habits.

Remove Friction To Create Habits

Just as adding friction can help to interrupt and break unwanted habits, removing friction can help to make it easier to form new desired habits.

The easier a desired habit is to do, the more likely we are to do it.

An example of removing friction might be to leave vitamins or medication by the kettle, as a reminder when we have our morning coffee or tea.

Another might be to the leave weighting scales at the bottom of the stairs at night, so they are seen first thing in the morning when coming downstairs.

Another classical examples might be arranging the fridge so that the “good/desired” foods are easier to get. Or leaving workout clothing by the bed, so that when we wake there is less friction to putting them on.

The key to breaking and making habits isn’t just to use willpower alone, but to set up our environments in our favour to help us succeed.

This involves removing as much friction as possible for the habits we want to do, and creating as much friction as possible for our unwanted habits, to allow us to make more mindful decisions, rather than automated ones.

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RAIN Method to Break Unwanted Habits and Cravings

habits mindset success

The 10% Target Mindset

“The 10% Target” is formula or mindset developed & promoted by best selling author & entrepreneur Jennifer Cohen to help achieve higher levels of success, and get more of what you want.

Success is more about Boldness

The central theme is that success is much more about boldness than raw intelligence.

Most of us live on default – default to what’s convenient, take what’s available, acquiesce to what’s in front of us. Boldness is chasing what we want, and not just settling for what we can get.

Many people assume they are either born with boldness or not, but boldness is actually a skill like anything else. To develop boldness simply takes practice, and we can get better at it.

The 10% Target

The 10% target means deciding what we want most in life, and making 10 attempts at it. This dramatically increases our chances of success. Most people don’t even make one attempt at really striving for what they actually want.

The purpose of the 10% target is to get very comfortable with failing 90% of the time. If we make 10 attempts we will either get the thing we want, or get something we didn’t even know was available, or discover what we were meant to do.

Most people don’t get what they want, because they don’t go after what they want, but rather settle for what’s available.

One example she gives is a survey of 160,000 people who really felt like they deserved a pay rise. 2/3 of those people never even asked for a raise. However, of the 1/3 who did ask, 70% received a pay rise.

How do we get comfortable failing 9/10 times? – Practice. After a short time, it becomes our new normal. We can start small too, which cultivates the boldness skill and builds confidence. This is training our brains to be bold.

Anxiety Fear Stress

The Fear Bubble

“The Fear Bubble” is a concept & technique developed by former British Special Forces, Ant Middleton, which he explains fully in his excellent book, aptly named  “The Fear Bubble”.

This simple technique can be used to harness fear, by training ourselves to postpone fear to the moment we actually need it.

Fear is simply our mind and body switching on it’s sympathetic nervous system (fight of flight), and releasing stress hormones to prepare the body to fight or run away from danger.

If there is future event which is causing feelings of fear, then, the technique would involve visualising a “fear bubble” in that future space and time just at the moment where the stressor will occur, and ending immediately after.

From the moment the future fear bubble is imagined, there is an acceptance that no fear is needed until stepping into the actual fear bubble at the future event. 

Life and Death Combat Example

A life and death example might be pre-deployment to a war zone. A solider would visualise a space and time in the future where they would need or allow the fear to exist. E.g. actual combat. Then they would give themselves permission to not experience fear until that exact moment they step into the fear bubble.

Where possible, fear bubbles should be as short as possible. Breaking a threatening situation down into multiple fear bubbles, and visualising each one “popping” or “bursting” as they are completed can help harness the fear for longer.

So, for example, in a longer combat situation, a fear bubble might be every time a door or home is entered, or every 100m of battle field advanced, and so forth.   

Non Battle Applications

This technique isn’t limited to combat situations, it can be used for any future fear in everyday life. E.g. Exams, interviews, dates, media experiences, opening a business, starting a job, mountain climbing, learning to drive, professional competitions such as MMA or Boxing. The list is endless.

Exam Application

An exam example in the book would be:

  1. Visualise the fear bubbles starting at the exam, and a bubble for each question.
  2. Agree to feel no fear until you enter the first bubble.
  3. Enter the 1st fear bubble (question 1), when it’s done, imagine that bubble bursting and pause for a few moments
  4. Enter the next fear bubble (question 2), and continue like this until completion.

MMA / BOXING Match Application

This might involve 

  1. Visualise the fear bubbles starting the second round 1 begins, and a bubble for each round.
  2. Agree to feel no fear until you enter a the first bubble.
  3. Enter the 1st fear bubble (round 1), when it’s done, imagine that bubble bursting and rest remain outside of any fear bubble
  4. Enter the next fear bubble (round 2), and continue all the way through.

Re-Framing Fear as “Let’s go”

Another component of “the fear bubble” is redefining the feeling of fear as the body saying “let’s go”. As each fear bubble is entered saying to ourselves “let’s go” will help to positively reframe the fear, and trigger the action required.

Re-Entering The Fear Bubble

Sometimes after entering a fear bubble, there might be too much fear to handle, and action isn’t forthcoming. Simple step back outside, re-prepare, and re-enter. It might take a few attempts, but can help control and harness the fear to achieve the objective.


  1. Visualise the Fear Bubble(s) in the Future (feel no fear until then)
  2. -> Enter the Fear Bubble saying to self “Let’s Go”
  3. -> Take Action
  4. -> Step Out and “Burst” the Fear Bubble.