Change-it’s the only thing we can count on, but one of the most difficult things to accept. Change can be both welcoming and disruptive. While this is the time of year most of us are making promises of bettering ourselves, the reality is that one year from now, 8 out of 10 people reading this will have flirted with change at some point during the year, only to be exactly where they are right now.
Why is change so hard?
Habits are comforting-even those that we know are harmful. Knowledge alone does not translate to behavior change. Case in point-how many times have you heard yourself confess, “I know I shouldn’t eat this or do that, but….” You actually admit to being fully aware that the behavior you are confessing to isn’t good for you and may even be harmful, but it doesn’t stop you from engaging in the behavior.
If knowledge doesn’t change behavior, what does?
Whether you’re trying to eat less, move more, quit smoking, or spend less money, here are a few signs of readiness that may indicate that at this time next year, you will be one of the 2 out of 10 people that made the break through!
Sign 1: You are able to identify a behavior to change rather than an outcome.
This is the time of year when most of my clients want to lose weight.Weight loss is not a behavior-it’s an outcome.
What is the behavior you are willing to change that will result in weight loss?
Sign 2: You are willing to accept the fact that lasting behavior change takes time.
This goes back to why change is so hard-habit!
Once you’ve identified the change you want to make, you need to practice so it becomes your new habit.
Sign 3: The behavior change is one you really want to make for YOU-not for another important person in your life or your doctor.
Is the pressure to change internal or external?
If you are considering a change that someone you love thinks you should do or wants you to do, but you’re not really into it, chances are you’ll never do it.
Funny story-a spouse of one of my clients loves to tell his friends how lucky he is that his wife exercises (he loves how it has changed her physique and admits that he is even more attracted to her after 20 years of marriage than he was when they got married)! But the funny thing my client will tell you is that while she’s appreciative of her husband’s admiration, it’s just an extra perk that came along with her decision to start getting active. After her youngest child turned five, she had a self-realization that her children no longer disrupted her sleep in the middle of the night for breastfeeding or bed wetting, meaning she no longer had an excuse for not being able to get up early to exercise before work-a habit she once treasured before children! My client’s youngest child is now 15 years old and this 10 year habit is now second nature.
Sign 4: You acknowledge that although making the change will be difficult, the resulting outcome will far outweigh the pain of not changing.
This comes down to your WHY?
Is your WHY big enough and important enough to go through the pain of change?
Are your comforting and harmful habits preventing you from living the life you want to live?
Fitting into a cute dress for a high school reunion is not the same as being able to walk from your driveway to your front door without getting winded. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fit into the cute dress-the question to ask yourself-is this a big enough WHY for me to make a permanent change of behavior?
All signs say I’m ready to make a behavior change-now what?
Congratulations! Now you need to set yourself up for success.
Here are two crucial steps that you need to take before implementing your behavior change:
Step One: Make your environment supportive of the change you wish to make.
Your physical environment can make or break your desired behavior change.
Align your environment with the change you are getting ready to implement.
This may mean ridding your pantry of processed foods, stocking your fridge with produce, investing in a pair of good walking shoes, getting rid of the ashtrays, digging the exercise bike out of a mountain of laundry, or alterations in any other number of environmental cues that trigger you engage in your new behavior.
Step Two: Set up your support network.
Don’t be afraid to seek both social and professional support.
Tell your family and friends about your new behavior change and let them know how they can support you.
For example, if your spouse insists on keeping a food in the house that you believe would derail your new healthy eating habit, ask him or her to keep it out of your sight and not to eat it in front of you. You also may consider asking a friend or family member to be your accountability partner. Even if that person doesn’t engage in the behavior with you, keep them posted of your progress and let them know how they can help you.
In addition to social support, seek services from a professional who can provide counseling, coaching, and instruction without wagging their finger at you or making you feel weak or ashamed is priceless.
Depending on the behavior you are working on, you may consider guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist, psychologist, or personal trainer. Whomever you choose, try to learn a little about their philosophy and experience, and make sure you are comfortable asking them questions.
Got a nutrition or health behavior question?
Send it Dr. Amy at Dr.Amy@wholefoodismedicine.com for Whole Food Is Medicine’s new question of the week series.