We know we should eat a balanced diet, stop smoking, have at least two alcohol free nights a week and increase our level of exercise. We know what lifestyle options are better for our health and wellbeing, only sometimes it is really hard to make these health choices and changes. Or is it? Following are some guidelines about the influences and barriers that we all face when we want to make changes and some strategies on how to make these changes. Hopefully, reading this will make forming healthier lifestyle habits a whole lot easier!
In order to make changes we need to understand what influences our behaviour, how we function as individuals, what aspects of our environment can be used to support change and who can we turn to, to support these goals. In reality, for behaviour to change, we need to set up our lives to support this change.
What influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours?
Many factors will influence how easy it is to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.
If you have a family history of certain health-related problems, like heart disease or breast cancer, then this may provide you with real inspiration to eat a balanced diet and exercise.
You may have been born with a health problem and so have always been aware of what is the best lifestyle for you. However, even though we know we have inherited certain risks, this doesn’t always make us do what is best for our health!
How can this be when we know the consequences are so serious?
Because we are human we often need more to motivate us to sustain healthier alternatives than fear. We may think ‘It won’t happen to me’, ‘I am not that overweight’, or ‘A few drinks every night won’t hurt!’
Personality also influences how well we are able to make healthier choices. Someone who is outgoing, active and motivated will be more likely to sustain changes to their lifestyle than someone who would rather stay indoors and stick to their routine. Some of us get bored easily and need variety, while others don’t like change.
Way of thinking
The way that we think also has a huge impact on motivation. If we only think in black or white, good or bad, then it becomes hard to find balance in our lives. For example, if you have this ‘all or nothing’ thinking pattern, you may swing from diets that cause you to starve yourself and then turn to bingeing. If you find that you are a more emotional and sensitive person, then perhaps this influences how much you turn to food, alcohol or drugs, particularly as a comfort when you feel challenged. We know that people who are depressed can put on a lot of weight, or alternatively they find it difficult to eat and see their weight drop below a healthy range.
Support is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For instance, we know that people who have a supportive social network are less likely to suffer depression, stress and heart disease. This seems to work in two ways. On the one hand having people who care for you and nurture you is generally good for your wellbeing. It makes you feel good about yourself. Having support also means that there is someone to talk to, offload to or seek help from, when you are trying to make changes in your lifestyle. They may provide you with words of encouragement, divert your attention, boost your self-esteem, or they may give you strategies to call on should you need.
Support can come from friends, family, partner, children, health professionals, counsellors and also from your own inner reserve (if there is any left!).
Of course sometimes people who should be supportive can sabotage our best efforts. It may be helpful to think about the people in your life who you turn to for support and ask yourself “Do they have my best interests in mind?”
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