I try to spend a portion of each day improving myself in some way: physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. I think it’s a huge part of what keeps my cup full. As part of this process, I listened to an interview with Edith Eger last week. This woman is amazing. Inspirational. Motivating. Although I seriously doubt that she wrote her books to apply to our struggles with weight and eating behaviors, so much of what she says applies that I can’t help bring it here.
The struggle is real. Changing our habits and behaviors is difficult. Our individual food culture and food environment is deeply ingrained in most of us. Although most of us want to be healthy, we also want to keep doing the things that we do – because they are familiar. Although we know that going out for ice cream several nights a week is bad for our health, it’s also something that we do – something that we do with others – something that brings us pleasure. It’s part of our identity. Same thing with stopping by QT in the morning and grabbing a breakfast sandwich and a soda – it’s familiar – it’s easy – it requires a minimal amount of thought to perform.
Everyone has their own habits that drive them away from health. No one is perfect. However, when you make a commitment to begin a health journey, you have to ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice to get there. The journey to a healthier you isn’t going to be walked on the same roads that you’ve been walking on thus far – the roads that dug you into the muck in the first place.
Yes, it’s scary to change things up. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, it can be done. You probably need help. You need support. You need community. You need resources. Of course.
You also need to give yourself permission to do it imperfectly. To mess up. You also need to give yourself permission to miss your old ways.
Of course you enjoyed those family trips to Dairy Queen every week. Of course you enjoyed the convenience of having a gas station make your breakfast every morning. You wouldn’t have done those things over and over again unless they provided you with something – pleasure, convenience, security – whatever.
But missing the old behaviors is different than constantly lamenting them or romanticizing them. When I hear patients saying, “I just can’t wait until I can do … again” or “It just sucks that I can’t … anymore” – it tells me that they feel punished. However, since the person doing the punishing is themselves, when the desire to repeat the old behavior gets too strong, they can stop punishing themselves and just go for it – after all, when you are your own jailer, the consequences of fleeing the jail aren’t too bad!
MIndset is everything. Almost everyone has amazing goals. We want to be healthy and financially secure and amazing parents and amazing community members. We want to get promoted and be on time to everything and be in shape. The goals are the easy part.
However, if you only focus on the goals – on the end result – you are likely going to fail. If you don’t do the boring, day-to-day work of trying to improve things, the goals are simply wishes and dreams. They are sparkly little quotes that you can put on your bathroom mirror and dream about.
If your goal is to be a famous golfer, yet you don’t’ spend hours every week working on your golf game – you aren’t going to get there. If your goal is to improve your relationship with your son but instead of awkwardly trying to interact with him after work, you sit in front of the TV, that relationship is unlikely to improve.
The end goal – the pretty, sparkly thing – isn’t the important part. We have to change the steps we take to get there. Maybe the goal should be to work on our golf swing for ten minutes every day. Not sexy – but something that you can check off on your to-do list every day. Maybe the goal should be to open a light conversation with your son every day and see what comes of it.
Let’s swing this back around to health. If the goal is to be thin and healthy, then you have a million decisions to make between now and then – because then is vague and theoretical. If you are lamenting the loss of your favorite activities (like going out for ice cream with the family), it’s easy to take away the self-imposed punishment and do what feels good.
However, if your goal is to eat well today – then that trip to DQ has much more significant consequences. Because when you do that – you have not met your goal – right now.
The goal should be the process – not the end result. The goal should be the behavior change – not the outcome. If your goal is to be healthier every day – because that choice will help you feel better and live longer and have more energy – then look at your actions and see which ones don’t align with that goal – today. Sit down and analyze your day-to-day activities and figure out if they are worth it. If they fit your definition of being healthier – today.
As always, you know where to find me if you need more help!
Courtney Younglove, M.D.