If we never change, we will die, and yet most people resist change like it is the certain death. This resistance to change is at the root of many health problems. We grew up eating sugar-laden desserts as a reward and as an adult, we want to continue doing just that. Never mind that this single habit can keep us from our health goals. In the case of diabetes, that habit can be more quickly debilitating. I have personally witnessed a person with his hand in a bag of candy wondering why his blood sugar was so high. I have had people ask me why they are suffering the long term effects of elevated, uncontrolled blood sugar when they have been diabetic for fifty years and never adhered to the diabetic diet. Resistance to change is an instrument of death.
We tend to do the things that make us feel secure. Old habits that may be detrimental to our health have been our source of comfort for so long that we want to keep repeating those behaviors even if we know that they are not in our best interest. When life gets as tough as it gets, we tend to run for shelter in the places that we know will shield us from the storm. If a carton of ice cream or a case of beer has been our go-to in the past, a stressful event just might send us running back into the coziness of the familiarity of that toxic behavior.
While we tend to think of inertia, which is merely a resistance to change, as affecting the physical world of nature, we are very susceptible to this law of physics. Inertia helps us to maintain a homeostatic environment in our bodies so that our temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respirations will be regular and healthy. When we try to introduce change, we resist it to our core, even if it’s good for us. When I heft a loaded barbell onto my shoulders to squat, there is something in my brain that tells me that I have lost my mind. Nothing will bring about physiological changes in our bodies as quickly as a heavy weight. Sometimes, no, every time, that I put that bar on my shoulders, for several reps I think that I am going to surely die. My body is screaming for me to stop. It’s craving homeostasis, or to remain the same. That heavy weight will not ever allow me to remain the same and that’s why I feel that way. My brain is resisting change. I can never let it win.
There are various mental and emotional states that can also make change very difficult for many people. I am not addressing those issues. Medications and therapy can help with many behavioral issues. My son is autistic and change for him is one of the worst things in life. I am speaking to the average individual’s difficulty when you are attempting to improve eating habits or incorporate exercise into your life.
What Do I Do?
When I first began weight training, David told me to do my workouts like I do my job, make them non-negotiable, part of my life. In doing this, I have developed cues to work out. When we first start driving, we learn that the first thing that we do when we get into our vehicle is fasten our seatbelt. It is non-negotiable. We don’t question it. It very quickly becomes a part of our lives. When we get behind that driver’s wheel, we automatically buckle up. Avoiding sugar, counting our calories and working out has to be cued. If we repeat these good habits through sheer will for a period of time, they will become second nature. Now, I know that until I get my mandatory workouts in every week, I will not have peace. In the beginning, doing the workouts was a stress inducing behavior. Now, although I may procrastinate, or dread the weight, I know that skipping a workout is not an option. I have seven days to get in four hard workouts and some extra, easier accessory work. My cue to begin is the fulfillment of my days “off”, my rest days. As soon as those days are done, I am cued to work out. When I first stopped eating sugar, it was a hard habit to break. Now, after withdrawing from sugar a few years ago, avoiding sugar is my normal. The behavior is cued by the very presence of sugar. I automatically recoil. It is my new normal.
Nike Says It Best
The way to develop cues is to consciously perform an action until it becomes routine. When we forcibly learn something new such as better eating habits or exercising, we are using a different part of our brain from the part that cues us. After repeating these good habits through will and perseverance for a while, the controlling mechanism will move to another part of our brain. In the beginning, new habits are much like forging iron. It takes strength, will and force. After a while, the habit, like the iron, is forged and you can use it to hammer out good health. So when Nike says, “Just Do It.” they summed it up. Sometimes people ask us how to quit eating sugar. David always says, “Quit eating it.” It’s really that simple. Yes, at first it’s very hard, just like that iron in the forge. There’s great pressure and difficulty but before you know it, a useable tool will emerge.
As you practice your good habits willfully and then with cues, you will begin to reap the rewards. You may notice increased energy and better skin. Your clothes will fit differently and people will begin to notice and pay you compliments. Shopping and trying on clothes in the dreaded dressing room mirror will become your friend instead of your nemesis. These positive reinforcements can keep you moving in the right direction because they will activate the reward center of your brain just like those bad habits of yesterday once did. You will have changed your habits and even your personality to some degree. Instead of being the one who always wants to avoid anything active, you will be the leader in active, leisurely activities for your friends and families. Instead of being the one who always burdens the digestive systems of loved ones with sugar and excess calories, you will be helping them achieve their health goals.
I want you to understand that nowhere have I said that the process would be easy. In the beginning, it’s incredibly hard and even after you have developed new habits, you will still have free will to do either good or bad for yourself. Most of the time when I face the Squat or Deadlift, I feel like I’m going to my execution, but I go. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Why barely survive when you can thrive?
The choice, as always, is yours.