We all want to be well, or more well. Perhaps it’s more exercise, better sleep, less alcohol, losing weight, coping with stress more effectively, quitting smoking, or something else. But we all have that list in our heads, you know, the “I’d be really well if I could change xxxyyyzzz” list. But we have usually had the same list in our minds for quite some time, and have struggled to actually make the changes. Often we don’t get to the start-line on our change journey or perhaps we’ve made starts, and maybe it’s gone well for a while, but we’ve somehow not kept-it-up. The thing is, change is hard. Why? Well, we don’t think we have all the answers, but we do have a few ideas that might be helpful……
We need a reason to change. That’s obvious, right? Or is it? We see lots of people who say they want to make change but in truth, they are not really sure WHY. Really crystal-clear sure.
- We’ve known smokers who’ve wanted to quite for decades but it’s only when they have lost a leg to gangrene that they actually get serious and do quit. They knew the health risks all-along of course but somehow it was not “real” enough for them (or maybe they had that “won’t be me” delusion) and so they make the decision and the change, too late.
- With weight loss, so many people are not clear if they want to be slimmer for health reasons, or appearance, or fashion, or something else like peer-pressure. They do want to lose weight but they are not really sure exactly why – they’ll often say “health” but in their hearts it’s more about fitting into jeans. What happens is that they lose focus on what actually motivates them (if they could be honest and focus on the jeans they might do better).
We really need to think about the WHY. We need to chew on it, research it, write down our thoughts. It requires real honesty, with ourselves. We need to be able to express it in simple clear language, out loud, and we need to believe what we’re saying. Really believe. We think that many of us fail with lifestyle change because we are not clear enough on just why we want to change.
Write down your reasons for change. Say them out loud. Does it sound like the real, whole, honest truth? Until it does, keep thinking.
We have to believe, to have confidence and to trust. That we can make change. Attempting something hard (and lifestyle change is always hard) without having some confidence that you can succeed, becomes self-fulfilling. When we expect failure, or do not expect success, we usually get what we expect.
- Many heavy drinkers just do not believe they can cut down, or stop. They know it will be hard. They sense the power of the addiction and they fear it. That’s rational and it’s understandable. Sadly, it holds many people back.
- Lots of us have been on diet after diet after diet, with no success. We’ve come to think that we simply cannot lose those kilos. And with that mind-set, we probably can’t.
One of the great secrets to any change is planning: we have to have a plan, a plan we believe in. A plan we think can work. This might mean doing some research, seeing a doctor, joining a support group, but one way or another we have to come to a point where we do believe.
Don’t even attempt lifestyle change until you feel confident you have a plan that can work. By all means recognise that it will be hard (it will) but you need to also accept, and know, that it is possible.
“I am going to run 10km in a month” “I am going to lose 20kg before the wedding in 2 months” “I am quitting cigarettes for good, right now”. We have heard these, and similar statements, time and time again. Occasionally these folks do succeed and make the changes, but 9 out of 10 times, they do not. Rushing things is an almost-certain guarantee of failure. Lifestyle change is about life-long sustainable change. It is often about reversing damage done over years and often decades. The notion that this can be fixed “overnight” is just not realistic.
- The classic example here, is the crash diet – trying to lose kilos and kilos every week. Some manage it for a short time but it’s too hard (it’s basically starvation and that’s impossible to keep up) and so most fail. Even those who succeed, short-term, find that the yo-yo diet effect kicks in, their metabolism slows, they gain the weight back and they find it harder and harder to control their weight. It a horrid, vicious, cruel cycle we’ve all seen or been through.
We need to take the time to be deliberate, to be clear on our goals, to plan carefully, to build up some clarity and some determination. Then we need to be realistic about what can be achieved, and how quickly. Rush is the enemy.
Be deliberate and only set realistic goals, no matter how desperate or rushed you may feel.
Life is full of setbacks, as is behaviour-change. So very many of us just give up when we experience a dip or a frustration, or a slowing of our progress. It’s quite understandable in a sense – the reasons behind this are many and complex, having to do with motivation, fear-of-failure, lack of planning, and more.
- We start an exercise programme and then for some reason it gets interrupted by a holiday or an illness or work-pressure, or whatever. Somehow we just don’t get started again.
- We quit ciggies for 7 weeks and then one night at a party and perhaps after a glass or two, we just have one. Next day we’ve bought a packet.
Managing setbacks is really a micro-version of managing change overall, but one really important approach is to KNOW that there will be setbacks (bad-food days, gym-skips, an extra drink, an illicit ciggie, etc.) and to PLAN for these. Plan to avoid them if possible, sure, but more importantly plan how you’ll deal with them.
Know that you will experience setbacks. Deliberately think about this and have a plan.
Lifestyle change is nearly always long-term and in fact, life-long. Think about that carefully. So many people see these changes as “projects” that have a beginning and an end. It just does not work that way.
- Alcoholics who have been sober for decades still consider themselves “recovering alcoholics” so that they stay focused and vigilant and respect the power of the addiction they are fighting.
- Truly successful slimmers adopt life-long healthy-eating habits and know, really know, that they must always be careful and conscious about food. They are not “Biggest Loser” entrants but they are living health lifestyles, for life.
Life is long and that might seem overwhelming but living well is not a stop-start thing.
Do not impose an ending to your healthy-living but rather understand it as the way you live, for life.
So there are a few ideas around lifestyle behaviour change and how to move from your wish-list to your action-list and to sustainable life-long habits. We hope it’s helpful but we also know it cannot be complete: please add your ideas and comments below.