Positive health changes must be enjoyable or they will not become permanent. Here we look at how to master the first few days of the first change. Enjoying early success will encourage you to tackle bigger changes with confidence.
How important is good health to your life? Most importantly in the early days, what immediate benefits can you expect to feel? Weight loss can give a confidence boost and reduce joint pain; improved cardiovascular health allows you to play more actively with younger family members. A change of diet will bring clearer skin, may reduce headaches and increase energy levels. All these effects can be felt within the first 3 weeks of altering your lifestyle. Even when the longer term health benefits have not yet become measureable, these early days are marked out by very definite differences which can and should be celebrated as an example of success yet to be achieved.
I suggest starting with the easiest change. This recommendation is based on research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT researchers, led by Charles Duhigg, which discovered a psychological loop between cues, actions and rewards. An example of this would be buying a chocolate bar every time you pay for petrol. A little self study should reveal why you continue to do this even when you promise yourself that you won’t. Perhaps you always fill up your car on the way home from work when you’re tired and hungry – try having a healthy snack before you leave work. Or it’s because you want treat – try buying a scratchcard instead of the chocolate. By isolating the reward aspect of the loop you can make simple changes so the cue, in this case buying petrol, doesn’t lead to the same action, eating a chocolate bar.
Choosing a simple goal allows you to learn and experience the process of change without pressure. That one little chocolate bar probably doesn’t make a huge difference to your weight but using it as a testing ground will bring far greater rewards in terms of knowledge about your habits. It’s this knowledge that we really want because once we know what is creating the poor lifestyle habits we can seek methods to improve them.
So how do you decide on a realistic change to begin with? What happens if you fail at the first attempt? Your first change can be tiny. You could park at the far end of every car park, buy a different brand of crisps or brush your teeth at lunch to prevent snacking. Remembering to mark your first success and taking time to congratulate yourself will provide strong positive feedback about your other good intentions so it is important to be specific about what you have changed and how it has affected you.
Think of your first goal as an information gathering strategy rather than the last hope of ever becoming healthy. Examine what was easy or hard, how long it took to make a regular change and what difference it made to you. Look for the immediate benefit to you. Later this year we’ll discuss the importance of managing failure and show you how to examine disasters without letting them affect your greater plan.
Over the last few weeks we've looked at various health tests. Why not take time now to complete some or all of the health tests and make a note of the results alongside the date they were taken. Choose one small, experimental change that you can begin today and write it down beside the health tests. Write what you expect the outcome of the small change will be and how quickly you should expect to succeed.
Enjoy Good Health!