Tuesday, 19 September 2017 06:08

Lifestyle change: What's holding you back? Featured

Lifestyle change: What's holding you back?

In modern societies a lot of ill health and unhappiness is partly or wholly due to poor lifestyle choices we all make. These include our diet, inactivity, alcohol consumption, cigarette use, work-life balance, sleeping habits and many more. As doctors these choices are the most difficult thing to encourage people to change and our success rates are poor. 

As an example of this, a very large study showed that the chance of obese people attaining normal weight was one in 210 for men and one in 124 for women annually. Everybody agrees we would like to change our ways but so few of us do.

As a doctor discussing lifestyle change with a person, it is apparent almost immediately as to who is likely to be successful. If they are from the outset engaged with process and coming up with their own suggestions then change is possible. However if the first thing the person thinks of is a barrier to change (usually an excuse) then not much is going to alter over the long term.

A recent psychological concept about our mindset type is helpful to explain this difference in approach people take to change.  Those with a fixed mindset believe their character, skills and intelligence is defined at birth and that little can be done to change these things. They tend to seek success by pursuing goals they have had success in previously or they believe fit their existing talents. They are reluctant to develop themselves in areas where they feel ill suited and initially likely to fail.

Those with a growth mindset in contrast believe that their basic qualities and skills can be cultivated through their own efforts. This makes them well suited to embracing change and uncertainty.

It is not an either/or situation. We all sit somewhere on a continuum from a pure growth to a purely fixed mindset. A useful YouTube video explaining the concept can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU

We can change our mindset and for many of us to improve our lifestyles, it is essential. A useful way to start is to follow three steps.

  • 1) Define the type of person you want to be to yourself. Not the type of person others or society expect you to be. You have to own it.

Make it specific, achievable and modest to begin with. It can be built upon in the future.

For instance it could be “ I am the type of person who exercises 5 days a week” or “ I am the type of person who does not eat junk food”. These are initially going to be more achievable than grandiose plans to run a marathon or lose 20 kg.

  • 2) Focus on the process you have made to be the person you want to be rather than the end result.  For instance, with weight loss it could be focussing and celebrating your ability to achieve your plan to not eat junk food and not drink sugary drinks.  To stop smoking it could be focussing on sticking to your plan to make an attempt to quit every month and congratulating yourself for trying rather than being disappointed and demotivated by the fact you have yet to successfully quit.
  • 3) Finally be honest with yourself about what are true barriers and what are just excuses for not implementing a plan to adjust your lifestyle. Not exercising because of the weather in winter or not having the time is an excuse.

Use a growth mindset and produce your own solutions to overcome excuses preventing you from acting as the person you previously defined yourself to be.

People can have definite barriers to making change such as ill health or addiction impacting their confidence or ability to modify their lifestyle. Again, a growth mindset approach would be to seek expert help to overcome these and a good place to start is to consult your GP.

Lifestyle change is hard and failure is likely but success comes with persistence.

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

                                                                                    Thomas J Watson

                                                                                    (1874 -1956)

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