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How To Get Motivated To Make Healthy Change... and Keep At It

There is an old Buddhist saying, “True knowing is doing what you know.” The vast majority of us know logically what we need to do in order to get into shape, improve our health or get out of pain. We logically know that we need to: reduce stress, eat more fruits and vegetables, cut down on the junk food, the alcohol and the cigarettes, keep up with our treatment and to exercise more. But the expanding waistlines and deteriorating health in every Western country highlights that we are not doing what we know. We are not finding an emotional reason to make that positive lifestyle change.

So how do you find that internal motivation to step up and make that lifestyle change?

To find that answer you need to understand some basic psychology.

The main thing to understand is that all human behaviour is done to either avoid pain or gain pleasure. If you ask people why they smoke the most common answers are:

 

  • It’s a coping mechanism for stress (avoiding pain)
  • It gives them something to do with their hands (avoiding the uncomfortable feeling of doing nothing)
  • They enjoy it (gains pleasure)
  • To fit in with their friends and to be social (pleasure of gaining acceptance with their friends)
  • To be different/ to demonstrate that they can do what they like (gain pleasure of a heightened self-esteem)
  • They’re addicted (they crave for the smoking buzz and think giving up is too hard (i.e. too painful))

By the way, these reasons don’t just apply to smoking. They are equally applicable to any unhealthy lifestyle habit. So you can see that all the reasons for indulging in these unhealthy habits are emotional reasons. They are not based upon logic so don’t waste your breath in trying to convince yourself or others to change through logic. You need to get emotional. 

Step 1. Identify what’s important to you

To begin this emotional journey it is important to ask yourself what is most important to you in your life

Look for answers that tug at your heartstrings. It could be your family, your job, money, your sporting career, a particular mission or project that you are on. It doesn’t matter what they are. What is important is that they are the subjects that you’re really passionate about or that make you feel emotional.

Step 2. Link pain to your current behaviour and link pleasure to your new desired behaviour

Once you have decided what’s most important to you, the next step is to you start asking yourself questions that associate pain to your current behaviour and associates pleasure to changing that behaviour. 

While visiting a stand at a country show I was in a discussion with a rather jolly yet rotund priest who also happened to smoke. He admitted that he knew that he shouldn’t smoke and that he should give it up so I decided to help him associate pain to his current behaviour and to link pleasure to quitting. 

Knowing the obvious passion for his religion, I began by asking him a loaded religious question: “What does it say in the Bible about committing suicide? Is it considered a mortal sin?” 

He answered in the way I hoped… “You’re right. Suicide is a sin. It shows disrespect for the life that God created.”

“So tell me,” I asked. “If smoking kills, then someone who smokes would technically be committing suicide, wouldn’t they? Or is suicide okay if you do it slowly? Is it just a sin if you kill yourself quickly?” 

The poor priest’s face turned ashen grey but I wasn’t finished. “Tell me, do you take particular pride in the presentation of your church?” 

“Yes,” he replied sheepishly, this time realising that it was another loaded question. 

“Isn’t your body regarded as the temple of your soul?” I asked. 

He bowed his head somewhat ashamedly.

“Thank you. I very much get the point now. I have to admit I never thought of it from that perspective. There are quite a few things I will be changing in my life.” 

So how do you link pain to your current behaviour and link pleasure to your desired behaviour?

You do that by asking yourself (or the friend or colleague that you want to help) questions that cause them to focus on the pain that their current habit can cause to important people and things in their life. You could ask, “How would (this current habit) destroy (what is important to you) over the next year? How would it feel? ” 

To magnify the emotional intensity of the impact of this destructive habit, focus on the longer term impact with your quest “Imagine that you kept on smoking/overeating/ not exercising for the next 5/10/20 years? How could it destroy the relationship/wellbeing of your family? How would it feel knowing that you brought this on because you didn’t act now to turn your life around? How does it feel?” It is important to focus on the pain. The more intense the experience, the greater emotional muscle you will develop. 

If you do this exercise properly, you should be very emotional and possibly in tears. Once you have got to this stage, you have successfully associated pain to your current behaviour. Now it is time to associate pleasure with taking positive lifestyle action by asking yourself these questions…

Imagine what life will be like in one year, 5/10/20 years if you take action now? What would it feel like in 20 years time seeing the great relationship you have with your family and the great wellbeing that you all have? How great would it feel knowing that they have developed great healthy lifestyle habits from observing you and that they will teach it to their children?” 

When you have a big enough emotional reason you can do anything. This same process can help you make changes to your health, personal and business life. These feelings of pain and pleasure that you experience during this exercise will serve you when times are tough in the future. Let’s face it, chances are that there will be times when you want to throw the towel in and give up and revert to your old habits. When you remind yourself of the reason why you are making these positive changes the flood of these emotions will act like a compass so you can regroup and set sail for the lifestyle that you desire and deserve. 

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