As a health and wellness coach, my job is to help people define small, specific steps to attain a health goal. It could be weight loss, quitting tobacco, incorporating more exercise into the day, or stress reduction.
Those three arenas can make a huge difference in lowering what could sooner or later lead to costly health conditions.
However, behavior change is complicated; for humans, anyway.
If I want my cat to lose weight, I dole out his food portions. I let him outside to prowl around so he gets regular exercise. Guess what? The cat drops a few pounds, mainly because he doesn’t get to make choices about his food. That’s what I do.
But we get to choose, and we can make a different choice tomorrow than we did today. That’s quite a liberating thought. The problem is most of us feel trapped in a brain circuitry of responses programmed to kick in as a result of predictable triggers.
For instance, you’ve just had an argument with your spouse with no resolution. A half dozen Christmas cookies might calm you down, but not a bowl of fruit. Or the option might be to zone out on Facebook for a few hours, or smoke a few cigarettes or have a couple of drinks; but none of those choices will make you any healthier.
While the choice may be isolated to a situation, what keeps us stuck is a recurring feeling or belief that the script will repeat itself the next time we’re frustrated or upset. We are stuck with the idea that “this is who we are.” The feelings that accompany that can make us believe we are incapable of changing. It’s like showing up on a stage where somehow the script is always the same even if the actors change.
Back to the cat.
He may be temporarily stressed if a dog chases him to the cat door, but as soon as he’s inside he’ll have no trouble eating his portioned food and then go rest up for another day of who knows what. The cat doesn’t care because he can’t think. And even if he could, he’s far better off to do as he’s always done; follow his instincts.
But we “think” and that’s the biggest source of our problem. We form judgments about ourselves, we build misguided beliefs about how others might see us and we forecast dire outcomes that will probably never happen. Then we feel bad and then go eat something, smoke something or drink something.
As a coach, I’ve found sending a patient out the door with a list of goals often isn’t a simple solution because thoughts and their resulting feelings can sabotage the whole plan after just a few days into it.
That’s because we believe our thoughts.
But what if we didn’t?
There’s nothing permanent about a thought but it can serve to anchor a feeling. There lies the challenge because our behavior is generally driven by feelings, not by thoughts. If we’re feeling anxious, angry, depressed, sad or frustrated, that’s when we make our worst choices.
But what if we just don’t believe our thoughts?
I’ve experimented with this idea over the past few months as negative thoughts present themselves and I’ve found that if I decide not to believe them, they stop short of producing negative feelings.
It’s negative feelings that suck your energy, and those come from negative thoughts that we give energy to. Not believing your negative thoughts, or giving energy to them, can short-circuit that whole negative experience.
And that then sets the stage for a new script.
Here’s the deal. We are not our behavior so shame never has a place here. We’re neither good nor bad; we simply make good or bad choices, and we have a brand-new opportunity to make a better choice in every single moment.
My sister has taught and tutored at the elementary school level for many years. Here’s how she phrases the message for her students:
“You’re not a born winner. You’re not a born loser. You’re a born chooser.”
Change is possible for all of us.
Just don’t let your thoughts decide.
Paula M. Anderson is a certified Health & Wellness Coach. She has written and presented on health-related topics in the Grand Valley for many years. email@example.com