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Barriers to long term change (and how to overcome them 5)

This is the fifth of six articles about the obstacles that stand in our way of long lasting change. If it has inspired you to think again about how you approach tasks in your life, now is the time to sign up to the free Find Your Why online program.

Family and friends as obstacles to better health

In the most part, family and friends are the best source of help and support when trying to make change. Later this year, we’ll look at the role of others and discuss the many ways you can rely on those closest to you to assist you in your change. There can be occasions, however, where family or those closest to you are obstructive both knowingly and unknowingly.

In the most part, family and friends are the best source of help and support when trying to make change. There can be occasions where family or those closest to you are obstructive.

Meet Jon. Jon has dyspraxia, a condition which is often identified as clumsiness but really denotes an over exaggeration of large motor skills. This results in fatigue, lack of rhythm and poor posture, balance and hand-eye coordination. By the time Jon has reached his late teens these difficulties have culminated in unhealthy weight gain and an extreme dislike of sports or exercise.

Jon’s family love him dearly and want to make sure he’s happy. They understand why he doesn’t like exercise and as they like to treat him as often as possible, Jon and his family regularly bake and watch films together to wind down. Jon has had many unsuccessful attempts at healthy eating in the past which leave him feeling like a failure and worse, bring on binge eating habits which scupper his best efforts. His family want to protect him from this upsetting cycle so when he instigates his next big health kick they discourage him from trying.

We can now see this for what it is; a combination of their fear for his failure and the full effect of parental pressure in protecting their little boy from harm. For Jon, however, it appears not as an unsupporting family but as affection and love from those closest to him. He is unaware of the negative implications when they curb his desire to change.

This is just one instance of a family quashing a member’s best intentions but there are plenty more.

Partners in particular can struggle when one decides to make a health change. In some cases it can be with simple actions such as tempting the dieter with a weekly takeaway or snacking in the evening even though this is an obvious trigger for most people. In other ways it can be through more emotional means. The use of phrases like “Why do you want to change? I love you just as you are.” Or “You’ll make yourself miserable again” weigh down the person trying to improve their health. Sometimes a unsupportive partner will act this way because s/he simply never puts on weight, can eat what they want and doesn’t want to be restricted but in other cases it can be that the changes being made are shining a light on both party’s unhealthy habits and only one of the partnership is ready to take action.

Alcohol often has a big part to play here. When one partner wants to cut back or stop drinking and the other doesn’t, this can lead to many more emotional strategies being employed. This is because it presents a greater need for support while affecting many social aspects of the relationship. Where one half may want to reduce their alcohol intake, they may also feel that their partner would be healthier if they followed suit. The partner in question may secretly think the same but doesn’t yet feel ready to make this change, or they may feel that either or both of them may limit their relaxation and party time without the social lubricant of alcohol. Either of these responses will impede progress and cause bitterness.

Like most family or relationship issues, communication is key. Explaining what you want to achieve and how your family can help will go a long way to overcoming these barriers. If this can be arranged without unnecessarily disrupting common daily routines there is more chance that your positive changes will be accepted and perhaps eventually adopted by other household members.

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