Two weeks ago I wrote an inspirational blog post about how Peter LeClaire made a significant and lasting change to his lifestyle, resulting in a new found health unthinkable a few short years ago. That single post drove more traffic to this blog site than any other post I've published since I started blogging over 2 1/2 years ago. Not everyone has what Peter has to make a resolution stick, so this week, I'm please to have back my resident guest blogger, Dr Les Davidson to provide clear, actionable steps that may help you make the kind of change Peter LeClaire is committed to.
Enjoy the Ride….Rob
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS - make them happen anytime.
As a health-care practioner, I often ask my patients if they have specific resolutions or fitness goals for the New Year. Some patients say there is nothing magical about the fact that planet Earth has made yet another successful trip around the Sun; they never make New Year’s resolutions. Others, however, are excited and resolve that 2013 will be different.
For the ever-hopeful resolvers, their chance of success, unfortunately, is limited. Most of the conditions I treat in the clinic, for example, could be avoided or at least ameliorated with lifestyle change. The creation of healthy habits is critical in achieving true health potential —but creating habits is difficult. It’s not that we want to suffer; it’s that we keep doing the same thing while expecting different results. Remember the definition of insanity? Most of us are guility of insanity in at least one area of our lives.
THE SCIENCE OF CHANGE
In Changeology: How to Bring Your Resolutions to Fruition, author John Norcross describes the steps to creating change. Most of us already know the missteps. Missteps have led us to believe that:
- People can’t change on their own.
- Most resolutions are trivial.
- Change requires only willpower.
- It’s all in my genes.
- I can’t change; I have tried.
The truth is that three-quarters of those who change do so on their own; changes can be life enhancing, if not life saving; and those who rely solely on willpower fail at a greater rate. There is a difference between genetic determination and genetic predispositon and change is easiest if you have a strategy in place. In other words, if you have tried and failed, don’t give in to over-generalization or fear of failure.
First, it is important to establish your Reason for change.
- Recognize how bad habits are contributing to your over-all health challenges. If you have a daily doughnut habit, recognize what it does to your glycemic levels. Then stop driving through the drive-through until you can drive through without auto-pilot-ordering a double chocolate with your double double!
- Research. In recent years evidence shows that things we once viewed as health promoting are detrimental to your health. We ate margarine that was high in trans fats and for heart health we avoided all fats not realizing that we needed to have more Omega 3 fats ( Science, Medicine and the Future Omega 3 fatty acid and cardiovascular disease. British Medical Journal 2004: 328: 30-35). Another example is the amount of research supporting resistance training for health. Do your homework or talk with your health-care provider or fitness trainer for the latest research.
- Respect changes in life circumstances – injuries, intolerances to certain foods, or the one I can most relate to, getting older.
- Rediscoveryour passion. People often lose their way when they live without something they love to do.
IT’S NOT JUST A LACK OF WILL POWER
Most of us already have some good habits; we automatically buckle our seat belt, we brush our teeth, and (if we are a guy who lives with women) we leave the toilet seat down. The more autopilot habits we have, the more energy we have left over to exert self-control in the areas we still need to work on. Self-control requires energy and is, therefore, a finite resource. When we are using energy to face fears, project a certain image, manage limited financial resources, it is no wonder we have little energy left to exert self-control!
In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath use the anology of an elephant and its rider to describe the two independent systems operating in our brain. The elephant is emotional, instinctive, and in search of instant gratification. The rider is rational, goal oriented, but often over-analytical and struggles to make decisions. In order to make lasting change, you have to appeal to both to the rider and the elephant.
THREE STEPS FOR LASTING CHANGE
1) Direct the rider
Successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behavior. Clone past successes and script the critical moves. Rather than saying you want to eat better, determine what eating better looks like (your destination or goal) and then decide what resources and strategies you need (a nutritionalist, a shopping list, an online food diary, or an accountability partner). Pick a day to begin.
2) Motivate the elephant
Find the feeling behind the reason. Knowledge isn’t enough to change behavior. (We have all met crazy shrinks, obese physicians, and divorced marriage counselors.) If you used to love to ski, get to the gym/lose weight/get healthy so you can once again experience the thrill of shooshing down the hill. If you have fifty pounds to lose before you can fit into your ski pants, shrink the change. Break the weight down into five-pound increments. You want early wins. Small wins raise perceived skill level. Big changes come from a succession of small wins. Start a vision board with lots of pictures and words that capture the feelings and emotions associated with reaching your objectives.
3) Shape the Path
Remember the rider who struggled to make decisions? In Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz states that the more options we face, the more we become overloaded. Choice then no longer liberates but debilitates; the rider loses control and the gratification-seeking elephant seeks the bag of potato chips, the remote control or the Haagen-Dazs. Before that happens, limit your options by tweaking your environment to make it easy to choose the activity that moves you to the goal. For example lay out your workout clothes the night before. Bring a thermos bag of food to work so you aren’t tempted by the treats. Environmental tweaks beat self-control every time.
Pre-decide that each time you walk into the TV room, you’ll do ten pushups; pre-decide that whenever you drive to Safeway, you’ll phone Mom and ask her if she needs anything. Since habitual behavior is free (it doesn’t take decision-making energy), these “action triggers” can create instant habits.
There is nothing magical about making New Year’s resolutons. Your decision to change can begin on any day – an anniversary, a birthday, even Valentine’s Day. The most important thing is to start. Are you continuing to change and grow? If not, consider this: What could you change and how would that improve your life, your health, and your relationships! Start Now!
Adding Life to Your Years….Dr Les