By Daniela Bayer
The need for a healthy body, better eating habits, and more physical activity applies to anyone who is mindful of the consequences of lifestyle-related choices. There are five major categories of lifestyle risk factors that cause people to become ill and develop disease: smoking, inactivity, excessive drinking, overweight and obesity, and insufficient fruit and vegetable intake. We know the drill: awareness campaigns tirelessly inform the public about the known risk factors, hoping to inspire positive change via prevention and change in habit. Cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are common, yet preventable with healthy lifestyle, moderate physical exercise, balanced and nutritious diet, and healthy eating habits.
Still, why is it difficult for some people to change their habits despite being aware of the risk factors and their own power to create different results? What motivates people to behave in certain ways, and then change their mind? How and why does a person with a self-destructive habit decide to put a stop to it, make a positive change and maintain healthy habits for good?
According to science, the answer lies in motivation and a simple pursuit of reward or avoidance of punishment.
With reinforcement, any voluntary behavior becomes ingrained in the brain. With repetition, any behavior can develop into a habit. Whether it’s eating chocolate or smoking a cigarette, the behaviors provide reliable rewards - one in the pleasure of the taste of chocolate and the other in the connection with like-minded individuals who like to smoke. An unhealthy behavior has a serious and lasting consequence when the behavior turns into an addiction.
It is possible to make a change. It is possible to take the intention to change and translate it into a lasting behavioral change. This is possible, but only when the individual himself or herself is aware that change is desirable and possible. Our best intentions for them make very little difference. When someone believes that they can change a behavior, they are only as committed as the value they assign to the new behavior. When a person commits to a behavior he or she truly values, the commitment is high and authentic. For example, genuinely committed individuals exercise because they enjoy working out and it is fun. They envision certain results and create goals for what they want to achieve. Research studies have shown that a positive change in one health-related behavior triggers a chain reaction of change in other behaviors. The readiness to more fruits and vegetables is closely related to readiness to live a lifestyle that involves more physical activity. Common weight management programs usually target changes in eating behaviors and physical activity.
Despite the obvious benefits of positive lifestyle-related changes and the help that is available, some people are not able to become physically active and eat better. Here is one possible explanation: unless people feel that a problem is a problem, they are most likely not serious about making a change. They may have some awareness, but have not reached the point where they know something is wrong - and it requires a conscious and determined effort to change a behavior and pattern.
As soon as a problem becomes troublesome and makes them feel vulnerable, people go through a self-assessment where they review the situation and acknowledge the problem. Some begin to think about the possibility of resolving the problem, and others choose to not think about it. It is not unusual for some individuals to remain in this phase for some time while reviewing the benefits and disadvantages, and brainstorming ways to address the problem. When people grow more optimistic about making a change and resolving an issue, they also start taking the first steps, visualizing the outcome, and planning for the change. At this stage, people start making very small changes like skipping a cigarette, drinking an extra glass of water, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Here, the intention and behavior start to come together. An individual most likely has made a conscious commitment to the process, yet not knowing if they have what it takes to make change happen successfully.
When people start doing their own due diligence, conduct research, speak about it with others, and engage their own problem-solving ability, they consciously desire the change. They are willing to put in the work and embark on a new phase in life. This stage requires energy, determination and time. Positive feedback from family, friends and co-workers is very helpful as it encourages even more commitment toward a change that becomes more and more obvious and noteworthy. With repetition and maintenance of the new behavior, a new habit is born. It can be done.
- Category: Columns
- Hits: 508