The psychology of change is not something that is typically talked about in the worlds of fitness and nutrition (until recently, at least). It’s been ingrained in us that, if we want to lose fat, we need to go on a diet. Don’t worry about commitment or the long-term or any health implications. Or, if we want to get in shape we need to exercise a certain way. Don’t think too hard about it, don’t worry about having fun and enjoying it and don’t make it sustainable for the long-run. In the health and wellness world, we have plenty of short term options available to us that we don’t have to commit to, so the idea of true change never enters our mind.
And this is all well and good if you don’t have any aspirations of continuing to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some of us just want to lose 20lbs fast then go back to way we were living before. And that’s great, as long as you understand your health will constantly be in a yo-yo state. But if you have 20lbs to lose and want to maintain that fat loss, you have to develop new habits to make it sustainable. And in order to do that, you have to make changes that will last.
In our previous article, we talked about the elephant and the rider. To recap, the elephant is our subconscious behavior. The elephant is big, strong and impulsive. The rider is our conscious decision maker who takes deliberate action likes to think he is in control. When we’re making change, our rider thinks that it can simply yank the elephant in another direction without any persuasion. But, considering its’ strength, the elephant simply rears up and pulls you back down the beaten path if the rider doesn’t provide enough planning and direction.
This is when we introduce idea of the path. The path, obviously, is the direction your elephant and rider are going. If you’re like most Americans, you eat an American diet, which is low in veggies, fruits and healthy fats and high in sugar, processed foods and Frankenstein oils (vegetable oils). This is the path you might currently be on. And in order to change this, you need to have your rider and your elephant on the same page. Your rider must provide the planning and direction while your elephant provides the energy to get you there.
Now that we understand that our elephant and rider must be in cohesion in order to develop sustainable change. Here is the process that needs to happen in order to develop that cohesion:
It’s not enough to just want to change. You have to be ready for change. And order to do that you have to have 2 elements in place: importance and confidence.
Making change important seems easy enough. However, even if we are faced with a potentially debilitating metabolic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, often we don’t believe it’s necessary to change our lifestyle. Your goal is to improve the discrepancy between your current health and where you believe it needs to be. Whether that’s envisioning the worst thing could possibly happen in this situation or reflecting on how you used to feel when you were younger, you have to create a gap between where you are now and where you think you should be. The bigger the gap, the more important the change.
Confidence is tricky as well. So many of us have tried diets and meal plans and exercise routines and have not achieved the goals we set out to achieve. And if you haven’t failed yourself, you’ve heard the story of your sister’s friend’s great aunt’s neighbor who tried weight watchers and ended up putting on 10lbs. If you’ve already failed or you know someone who has, it’s easy to have low confidence that you can ever succeed. You need to build confidence in order to be ready for change. Try using a confidence ruler: on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being not confident at all, how confident are you that you can take this next step? This will help you adjust the change to make it more realistic for where you are.
This is where a lot of people stumble. Since planning actually takes effort, we just want to skip right to change. Without a plan, your elephant won’t know where to go and therefore will stay on the path it’s on. Developing a plan may have a couple of different aspects involved:
This is where the elephant comes in. Once all of the planning has been done and know where you want to go, it’s time for the rider to give the elephant some direction so the elephant can start stamping down new footprints.
One of my favorite quotes is “Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is potential power. Execution beats knowledge any day of the week”. You can do all the planning and homework and goal setting you want, with execution it’s all just a bunch of ideas on paper.
Take this process and put it into action. Whether you want to lose 20lbs or feel better or get your cholesterol under control, take action and go after it. Regret is one of the worst feelings in the world, and you don’t want to regret not pursuing your goals.