Unlike my children, a lot of my patients like homework.  When the subject matter is relevant and people are trying desperately to improve something, it doesn’t seem like as much of a chore as doing 20 algebra problems.  This is an exercise I have rolled out with patients lately and it’s proven to be pretty darn helpful for many of them, so I figure I might as well throw it out there for anyone else that is interested  If you aren’t ready for homework yet – no worries!   

For the first part, take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about where you are right now.  Where are you inside your head right now?  Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. Make a list on the left side of all of the emotions that you are feeling about this part of your life. Are you discouraged with your life in general?  Are you frustrated with your job?  Are you angry that you can’t keep up with the rest of the family when you walk places on vacation?  Are you resentful that other people seem to struggle less than you do when it comes to weight?  Are you scared that your significant other is going to leave you if you don’t get your weight under control?  Are you disappointed in yourself for allowing things to go this far?  Are you worried about a new diagnosis of diabetes?  Are you ashamed?  Most of the things that you are going to write are going to be negative – and that’s perfectly alright!  It’s typically negative things that prompt us to make changes, so don’t be embarrassed about it. It’s important to clarify where you are right now.

Now that that’s over, we can move on to something less negative.  Move to the right side of the paper and make a list of where you want to be in a year.  What does success look like to you?  How will you know when it’s arrived?  Are you doing this because you want to reverse your diabetes?  Get off your cholesterol medication?  Get a new knee?  Are you doing this because you want to have confidence in your body’s ability to play soccer with your kids? Because you want to stop obsessing about what you can and can’t eat every minute of every day?  Because you want to get the confidence to quit your job and start your own business?  Because you want to set an example for your kids and not lead them down the same path you are on?

This may take a few minutes to tease out but I promise it’s worth it.  Why? Because, if you don’t know where you are going, it’s going to be hard to figure out how to get there – let alone measure if you are getting closer to that place or further away.  It’s hard to pack for vacation if you don’t know where you are going.  Without a trajectory or destination, you are easily frustrated and often very inefficient.  Do you bring a winter coat or a bathing suit?  Do you bring golf clubs or snow skis?  You have to figure out the destination and work backward.

This is one of the first steps in making behavioral change.  If you’ve been following us for any length of time you have to know that we don’t work on some elusive thing like willpower or motivation. We do love science around here and the social scientists in the fields of behavioral change have given us lots of fun tools to work with.  So start with this – step one. If you want to sleep on it and then redo it tomorrow – great.  However, your initial answers are often your best ones. 

As always, if you need help, you know where to find me!

Courtney Younglove, M.D.

ATTENTION LAWRENCE PATIENTS: 18th Street is closed at Wakarusa until further notice due to construction. You can access our parking lot via Research Parkway and Research Park Drive. Expect traffic delays and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to our office.
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