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Which health change should you make first? Part 2 of 6

Consider this quote attributed to Motor Entrepreneur Henry Ford:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Some of us feel our health could do with a little tweaking but we can’t truly imagine how good it feels to inhabit a strong, fit and lithe body. We can list a few immediate needs but struggle to value the bigger long term picture that a healthy lifestyle can bring. Is it more important to look beyond the immediate health or weight niggles you already know about to imagine exactly what a healthy YOU would look like? Can we really look beyond the Henry Ford’s faster horse to the race car he knew was possible? More importantly than this, should we always aim for the biggest and best change?

Is it safer and easier to stay small and tackle each stage in manageable chunks? To nibble around the edges of a change as it becomes ever more attainable.

Earlier this year we listed 5 easy to take health tests and recommended trying out a few small and achievable changes. If you did these then you’ll understand your basic health needs and your approach to making change. You may even have discovered an immediate health need such as high blood pressure that must be managed before attempting any other changes.

For the next stage we’re going to borrow a phrase from Gary Keller’s book “The One Big Thing”. In this book about the importance of prioritising, Gary asks over and again, “What’s the ONE Thing you can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”. He urges us, when deciding on a course of action, to consider which change lessens or negates the need for the rest. As lifestyle changes inevitably bring knock on effects his recommendations are especially applicable for health improving activities. Here are a few examples of how this happens:

Example 1: The tests have shown that you have high blood pressure and that you are overweight. Sticking to a strict diet will lower your BMI and may also lower your blood pressure.

Example 2: Your body fat percentage is high and your waist-hip ratio is unsafe. Embarking on a regime with a combination of cardiovascular and weight bearing exercise will lower your body fat while redistributing your body mass to improve your waist-hip ratio.

Example 3: Your Vo2 max is low and your BMI is too high. Brisk daily walks will increase your Vo2max while burning extra calories to assist with weight loss.

When we use Gary’s approach it is easy to tell which change should be tackled first; it will emerge as an obvious and necessary goal. This goal will make the rest easier to achieve either by cutting out some of the work entirely or teaching new skills that will support your future efforts. In his book, he goes on to recommend that this big change be distilled into stages until the single first step can be ascertained. Each successful step leads on to the next until action becomes habit. This is often called “chunking down” and we will look at it in more detail later this year.

Not only does this approach allow you to commit to a challenge with confidence, it then funnels you into a cycle of small but constant change as you dovetail each step into the grander framework of your “One Big Thing”.

Earlier we questioned whether to start with a big or little change. Using the “One Big Thing” method it’s possible to start with both. By acknowledging the greater goal and working backwards to the initial step the task becomes straightforward and the path to success is clear.

There is another benefit to using the “One Big Thing” method. It naturally teaches you to embrace change as a continuous process rather than a one off action. Habits can take many months to become permanent and, as a result, long term change requires commitment. As our purpose this year is to teach you how to make long term change stick, we recommend you view your change as a journey. There may be stops along the way, you may double back at times and the road might seem rough but with every new experience you strengthen your change making skills and venture on.

Next week we'll look at how the ancient teachings of Buddhist Monks can help us choose which change to prioritise.

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