Monday, June 18, 2018
Health

To form good habits, put in the work that change requires

Changing habits so that you lose weight, get fit and manage your health successfully is certainly not an easy task. Patients often say, "It's easier said than done, Doc." I always agree with them because they're absolutely right.

However, everything is easier said than done, isn't it?

Recently, I was talking shop with a colleague, describing some of the steps my patients have been taking.

"I wish my patients would be willing to do that kind of work,'' he told me. "I can get them to take a pill but I can't get them to do the work."

Of course it's easier to take a pill than to do the psychological and physical work required to make major changes. But pills don't produce lasting, fundamental change. Sometimes it's necessary also to take medication, but typically, it's the work that makes the most difference and helps any necessary medication to work most effectively.

The statement "It's easier said than done" serves no useful purpose if one is serious about life changes. Hanging on to this statement is a way to continue to procrastinate, to keep from confronting any fears we may have that are keeping us from starting to change, and to delude ourselves into thinking that we have no power.

So, when a patient says, "It's easier said than done, Doc," I say, "You're right. Now, how much do you want to change?"

Another frequent statement I hear from people when they come across life problems is, "I can't." This is a guaranteed showstopper because as soon as you say it, your brain turns off.

Nothing gets better when we say, "I can't.'' But ask, "How can I ... ?" and your brain seeks solutions. This is what therapy is all about, whether you're working with a professional or embarking on a self-help program. It's about acknowledging a problem, accepting the difficulty of it and searching for ways to solve it. That process is paralyzed by saying, "I can't."

Solutions are rarely easy, but the only hope of finding answers is to look for them.

Perhaps you feel you have a problem with finding time to exercise because you have small children and a full-time job. If you say, "I can't exercise because I'm too busy," that's that. You'll just have to accept that being unfit and frustrated is your destiny.

Or you can ask yourself, "How can I find the time to exercise?" Maybe you'll decide to try playing active music while cleaning the house and skip, hop and jump through domestic chores. Or you might decide to start a walking lunch group with your co-workers. You might even persuade your spouse to help plan active family outings on weekends. And, if you did all these, imagine the progress you'd make. It might not have been the way you thought you "should" exercise, but your body won't know the difference. Problem solved.

Successful people have mastered the art of not quitting, accepting that good things often require effort and creativity.

It's important to learn to listen to what we say to ourselves and how those statements affect our behavior. Are you finding that life seems to not cooperate with you? Perhaps the issue is what you're saying to yourself. We can accept that everything is easier said than done and go about addressing the problem anyway. We can also stop saying we can't do something and explore ways that, perhaps, will help us solve the problem — even if not perfectly, or as we once imagined perfection to look.

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send your questions to her at [email protected]

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