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Transforming Your Worst Habit

Sep 9, 2008

Many times you click on a publication about diabetes and you find out that most of the people involved have no real relation to diabetes. Everyone knows that Steve and I have been involved in patient care for years. We have taken it one step further with Andrew Young, coming on board as our VP of Marketing. Andrew who has type 1 diabetes and has worked on diabetes related websites before offers us a unique perspective. He penned Transforming Your Worst Habit for Diabetes Wellness News and we have a copy of it for you here.

Transforming Your Worst Habit

Andrew Young

If, “We are what we repeatedly do…” as Aristotle said, then it’s no surprise that habits shape our lives.

If we don’t choose our habits consciously, the worst ones may have a profound impact on our health outcomes as diabetics. Many risk factors can be controlled by making a few key behavior changes — transforming your worst habits has a life-giving effect.

Research confirms that even our most destructive habits can be transformed. Here are the steps.

  • Set a goal that focuses on a specific BEHAVIOR rather than outcomes

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein

Stop for a moment. What’s the biggest way you sabotage your health and happiness? Is it neglecting your blood glucose? Flaking on your workout? That donut in the office kitchen? Do you know? Your spouse, long-time friend or parents will. Ask them.

Fortunately, just a few of our behaviors account for the majority of our problems. Focus on the specific behavior(s) most responsible for the outcome you want, rather than on the outcome itself.

Mendosa gives us a great example: John wanted to lose weight. Rather than fixating on his waist size or pounds lost, he transformed the key behavior that caused most of his weight problem, snacking after dinner, and lost 40 or 50 pounds.

Our worst habit does take thought and effort to change. There’s no magic bullet, no lottery win, so leave nothing to chance. A “dream” becomes a goal when you WRITE IT DOWN. Put the desired behavior at the top of your calendar. Stick it to your refrigerator.

Transforming your worst habit involves complex issues. A single strategy is too limited to shift a deep-seated pattern. For example, The National Weight Control registry data shows four habits of people who lose 66 pounds on average and keep it off for more than five years — exercise an hour each day, eat breakfast, weigh in regularly, and watch less than 10 hours of television per week.

So stack the odds overwhelmingly in your favor. Employ a combination of behaviors to make the new habits prevail. Use strategies that go well beyond the minimum you think necessary to make change. “If you’re trying to flatten an ant, push the refrigerator over on it.”

  • Monitor your progress and renew

If a habit matters to you, monitor it daily. Use a pedometer to track your activity. Check your weight and post it if want to lose it. Use your calendar to mark progress. Make it a game — remember grade school when the teacher put a star by your name? Monitoring refocuses and rewards us, and smart minds love games.

Some additional guidelines

  • Take on only one or two habits at a time so your efforts are focused
  • Set small milestones for gradual, steady progress (i.e., go from 2,000 steps per day to 3,000)
  • Develop the habit for at least 30 days, or until it becomes natural
  • Practice, because habits become more entrenched the longer we do them
  • Make a “no-exceptions policy” for habits that protect your health.

You don’t have to be perfect. Habits are about what you do more often than not. Consider these tips.

  • Know that there will be slip-ups and plan your comeback strategy from the start
  • Consider how you’ll handle vacations and sick days, when good habits can wither
  • See errors as learning opportunities ― pinpoint what happened, adapt, and recommit without guilt
  • Keep in mind that we succeed in spite of our guilt, not because of it

Experts conclude that any effort you make in the right direction is worthwhile, even if you encounter setbacks from time to time. Replacing a bad habit with a good one establishes new neural pathways. Each time we practice the desirable habit we rewire our brains to work for us.

  • Arrange your environment for success

“Things” are far easier to change than people; our environment has a major influence on how we behave, so change the world around you to seal your success.

Psychologist Brian Wasnik finds that cues in our environment tell us when we’re full more so than our stomachs. Get smaller plates if you want to eat less. Don’t eat straight out of the refrigerator or bag, or in front of the TV or computer. Also, avoid multitasking during a meal so you really understand what you’re eating.

Make it easier to follow through. Abolish temptations. If you want to be more active buy an exercise DVD, get some home exercise equipment or put your daily walk on your work schedule during lunch. Put out your workout clothes in advance. Schedule exercise dates and times on your calendar. Create an inspiring screen saver to represent your goal.

Tap your huge latitude for creativity as you consider how to orient your world for success.

  • Recruit a support team and be accountable

Our social network influences us continuously. Social psychologists know that if you make a commitment and share it with friends you’re much more likely to follow through.

Better yet, team up with a friend (or four) with similar aims to make the human desire for companionship and acceptance work for you. Or, get a furry pal — yours or a neighbor’s — to provide daily motivation to get moving.

Be vocal about your goals and ask for support. Request that your best friend be your “committed supporter” by checking in with you routinely about your progress.

When you win over your behaviors everyone shares in the success and inspiration.

  • Treat yourself and celebrate small successes

Your most powerful motivators are, in order of effectiveness, (1) the meaning you attach to your own behavior, for example, exercise is boring vs. exercise makes me feel good; (2) social motivators, especially committed support; and (3) rewards that you give yourself when you succeed.*

The best and most effective rewards come from inside. Tie what you really want (e.g. a sense of accomplishment, self-mastery, good health) to the behavior that takes you there.

It requires faith and cultivation to develop new behaviors until they become a reward unto themselves. In the meantime, focus on your ideal rather than on what you’re giving up — walking past the donut is the opportunity to become who and how you want to be.

Reinforce the behavior you want to cultivate. Be generous and don’t wait until the final goal is met. Celebrate each mini-success and milestone and be sure to tell your committed supporters.

Final Thoughts

“What we do for ourselves is more important than what medicine has to offer,” according to Harvard Medical School, Women’s Health Watch.

Our worst habit is as personal as it seems hard to change. However ugly, messy, and deep-seated your worst habit may be, knowing you’re not alone only goes so far. The principles used by genius change-agents, brilliant influencers, and social scientists are ours to use.* They provide a strategy to accomplish what no one, even ourselves, thought possible.

What will your life be like minus your most self-sabotaging pattern? I hope this question gets you more than a little excited to begin. I encourage you to get your calendar and your marker, and start now.

(This article also appears in the September, 2008 edition of Diabetes Wellness News, a publication of the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation)

* The author wishes to acknowledge Kerry Patterson, et al, who wrote Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, Jack Canfield, et al, The Power of FOCUS.

“The five principles of this article are from Living SMART, Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever, by Joshua C. Klapow, Ph.D. DiaMedica, 2008 and Sheri D. Pruitt, Ph.D. DiaMedica, 2008, and are used by their permission.”

Andrew R. Young is a Type I diabetic, VP Marketing Diabetes in Control Founder of www.YourBestSugar.com, and writes for www.MindOverMellitus.com

Andrew is also V.P. of Marketing for Diabetes in Control.com