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Barriers to long term change (and how to overcome them)

In this series of articles we’ll look at what stops us from taking the steps towards better health. We’ll consider internal barriers by discussing how events from our childhood affect our ability to change, how previous failures create a cycle of doubt and what happens when we refuse to take responsibility for our health. We’ll examine the external obstacles, those seemingly beyond our control that get in our way, how we often give ourselves insurmountable challenges and how friends and family can limit our success. We’ll then introduce the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to choose and implement change. Finally, we’ll learn how to overcome these barriers to make way for well planned strategies for change.

By the end of this series of six weekly articles you should be able to identify your own barriers to change, recognise occasions where you make excuses for unhealthy behaviour and take ownership of events in your past where you made poor choices or developed unhealthy habits. If you're keen on addressing a health issue, this is a good time to sign up to the free Find Your Why program. The combination of simple tasks and weekly guidance will help you take charge of your goals.

Internal Barriers

An internal barrier is a message in your head that prevents you from taking the correct action. Often internal barriers will have been set in childhood and appear as a deep rooted part of our personalities. There are thousands of courses, self help articles and other literature devoted to resetting your mindset and this article is not attempting to psychoanalyse or diagnose. Rather, here you will find a few shortcuts to help you discover whether the way you think about yourself stops you from making good decisions.

No 1: the effect of parental pressure.

Here is an example paraphrased from Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 habits of highly effective people”. In it, Covey describes his young, clumsy and socially inept son alongside his desire to provide paternal support. This led to him protecting the boy from the criticism of others while encouraging his son to change and exhorting him to become sportier and more intelligent. Only when Covey realised that as much as a desire to help, his other motivation was his own embarrassment at the boy, could he truly see the effect of his actions. His over encouragement, though mostly well intentioned, appeared to his son as a father’s disappointment and his over protection made his son believe his father thought him weak. This new found awareness allowed Covey to change his treatment of his son to the benefit of them both. Not all of us are as lucky as children or insightful as parents to reach such a happy conclusion. In most cases, even the best intentioned family upbringing can create barriers we must seek to recognise and overcome.

Phrases like “Give it here, I’ll do it quicker,” or “You’ll never manage that” resonate from most childhoods. As adults, we often hear these same doubts within our minds and these develop into ready-made excuses for our inaction. To recognise this, firstly listen out for phrases in your head such as “I’ll never do that, I failed before, it’s too much, other people do that, not me”. Consider their true origin. They were most likely spoken to a young child attempting a task far greater than their ability. Although they become part of our thought process, they were aimed at a small child rather than as a warning to a fully grown adult. These phrases become our doubts and they stop us from having the confidence to take action. By acknowledging them as only a childhood scolding their power is lost. Be aware of these voices when you plan your change and question their origin.

Next week we will look at how

fear of failure prevents us from trying.

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