Making Changes To Your Lifestyle…
Only you can make changes to your lifestyle, no one else can do it for you. Other people may suggest healthier alternatives, but only YOU can put these in to practice.
To make these changes it is helpful to understand a little bit more about yourself, what motivates you, your goals, and what has happened in the past when you have tried to make changes in your life.
Think about the following questions.
Remember, it is important to be as honest with your answers as possible.
What needs to change?
The first step in making healthier choices in your life is to identify the areas that need to be changed. Ask yourself:
- Am I neglecting or hurting my health in any way?
- Are there health related risks in my family background that I could prevent by making healthier choices in my lifestyle?
- Am I overweight, do I drink too much, smoke, take drugs (prescription and non prescription) or need to exercise?
- Do I take my medication correctly?
- Do I drink enough water?
Once you know what needs changing then you can start thinking of ways to make this happen. What has stopped you or allowed you to make changes in the past? It is helpful to understand more about how you operate in your world. Ask yourself:
- What motivated me in the past to make changes?
- What happened in the past to stop me participating in healthy behaviours? For example, like exercising or taking up smoking/drinking again.
- What are my expectations in changing to a healthier lifestyle?
- What are my fears about making changes to my present lifestyle?
When you understand what has been helpful and what has stopped change in the past, it is important to put the helpful influences into place (if possible). If you have certain fears about making changes then you may need to explore these further and/or seek guidance and support.
What are your goals?
Okay, so you know what needs to be changed and you are also more aware of your expectations and what helps to motivate you. Now it is helpful to understand what goals you have in relation to your health and to your life.
What do you want to achieve by making these changes?
- What are my short-term goals (over the next few days to 1 month) in relation to my health? For example, to feel better about myself, to have more energy, to decrease my risk of illness.
- What are my long-term goals in relation to my health? For example, to decrease my risk of illness, to increase my life expectancy, to have more quality time with my family and friends.
- What are my short-term goals in relation to my overall life? For example, to go on a holiday within six months, to take up yoga, to eat more vegetables.
- What are my long-term goals? For example, to sell my house and move to a quieter, more peaceful area, to complete my adult education course.
Write a list of your short and long term goals. Date the list so that you can refer to it in future. You may find that to achieve your overall life goals you need to fulfil your goals of having a healthier lifestyle. Or you may find that, in fact, your goals for your health and for your life are the same.
Am I ready?
If you are not ready for change then it will be very difficult to make sustainable changes. I don’t pretend that any of the earlier questions are easy to answer. It is difficult to know what you want to do in the future and it is difficult, sometimes, to know what will happen to your health. The next question however, is probably one of the most difficult ones to answer.
‘Am I really ready for change?’
If you are not really ready to change, then it will be really difficult to maintain any changes that you try. Some people will say ‘I have tried diets before, but I didn’t really have my heart in it. ’Or they may say ‘I wanted to give up smoking but I did it at a time when my kids were leaving home, my husband retired and I had to look after my mum.’
Then others will say ‘the time was right and I knew this time I had to put all my energies into quitting otherwise my health was really going to deteriorate’. Think very carefully about whether you are ready for change and whether your life is set up to support this change. When you are truly ready for change, change becomes so much easier.
It is important to ask yourself about the supports that you have in your life at this time. Ask yourself:
- Who can I turn to, to support any changes I make to my lifestyle?
- Where else can I get support to make these changes? For example: a medical practitioner, psychologist, support group, a friend or group of friends, education course or community health centre.
Unhelpful ways of thinking
Unhelpful ways of thinking influence our ability to make changes. We all have unhelpful ways of thinking. For instance, it is easy to think you have ruined your chances of ever losing weight because you slipped and ate that chocolate bar, cream cake and/or bag of chips! It is easy to think that you are to blame for all the little things that go wrong, that you will never be happy with your body anyway, so what does it matter if you are overweight! What this kind of thinking does, however, is make you feel negative, depressed and often anxious. How often do we say ‘I should have said this…’ or ‘I should have done this’? We don’t realise how many rules we carry in our head that guide our life and make us frustrated and anxious when we don’t follow through.
The following are examples of thinking distortions. It is helpful to acknowledge the ones that you do and think of ways to challenge yourself when you think this way in the future.
- ‘Black or white/all or nothing’ thinking – there is no grey, just good or bad – ‘I eat everything in sight, I can’t be trusted around food ever’.
- Catastrophising – the worst possible thing will happen – ‘It will end in disaster I know it. If I stop drinking alcohol my whole world will end’.
- Personalising – it’s always your fault – ‘I can’t get anything right’.
- Negativity – you focus on the negatives and/or the weaknesses; there are no positives – ‘I fail more times than I get it right’.
- Jumping to conclusions – predicting the future and it’s bad – ‘I know I will fail’.
- Rules like should and shouldn’t – you have fixed rules that include words like should, must, can’t – ‘I shouldn’t have had that cigarette’.
If you can identify the ways that you think that are unhelpful, then you are half way there to doing something about them. Try and catch yourself when you think in an unhelpful way and challenge yourself: ‘I don’t really eat everything in sight’; ‘I do get things right sometimes’; ‘I can think of times when I have been stressed and I haven’t reached for a drink’.
Where to from here?
The above questions may help you identify the areas that need change and ways to help change take place. At the end of the day any changes you make are really up to you. The way we think, feel and behave involves many complex processes that are influenced by many factors. Consequently the quick fix solutions won’t work. Take change one step at a time and don’t be too disheartened if you take a step backward every now and again. As long as you progress generally in the direction towards healthier choices then you are a long way from where you started – from the unhealthy to the healthier! If you need further support it is important that you seek help and information from the many people who are out there to help you, like general practitioners, specialists, psychologists, nurses, registered support groups and trusted friends.