Beat inertia, cruise toward better habits

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

I've got my quirks and issues like anyone, but generally, I think that like most of us, I'm a reasonably healthy person. Why is it then that I often find it so difficult to adopt behaviors that I know are in my best interest?

Just like a jet airplane taking off and getting up to cruising speed, we spend the majority of our energy trying to overcome inertia. Once we're flying, cruising is almost effortless. The trick is how to come up with the motivation and energy for takeoff so that we can "cruise" into the habits we would like.

We really don't do anything unless we want to. Making healthy lifestyle changes is no exception. So the first question we have to ask ourselves when we are contemplating making changes is, "Why do I care about this?"

Or in other words, "What's in this for me?" Your answers should be fairly specific and personal.

General ideas such as "exercising is good for my health" probably won't get you out of a warm bed for a morning workout. On the other hand, you might be motivated by the realization that you will have more energy and be in a better mood today if you exercise this morning.

Likewise, telling yourself you should eat better usually won't translate into any behavior change, but deciding to give up sodas because you don't want to become diabetic might be the catalyst you need.

Setting goals is often another way to become motivated enough to actually develop new habits. It's important that our goals not only be specific but also realistic. Perfection can be our own worst enemy in trying to overcome inertia. It's a lot harder to face the idea of eating a perfect diet than it is to add some fruits and vegetables and cut out the two worst foods you usually eat. You're also a lot more likely to stick to an obtainable goal of avoiding sweets six out of seven days than an unrealistic goal of never eating sugar again.

When it comes to starting an exercise program, another issue we have to consider is energy expenditure. Our minds really don't want us wasting energy when our immediate survival is not at risk. We have to overcome this by adopting what my wife thinks of as the slow and steady approach.

Progressively doing more than our bodies are used to leads us to becoming fitter and healthier. If you've been sedentary, any activity you start is more than you are used to. You are far more likely to start and maintain a program that isn't overwhelming.

Once we've come up with reasonable changes we want to make and the reasons we want to make them, the last step is to set a date for beginning. I believe one of the biggest reasons for putting off changes is because there is no reason why they have to be done today. Once we set a date to our goals we have a plan. Until then we just have a dream.

Making changes, even positive ones, is never easy. It takes courage to break out of routines in which we've become accustomed. If there is something you'd like to change, why not spend a little time thinking about why this is important to you and give it a try.

If you aren't able to maintain the change it doesn't mean you are weak or a bad person, it just means you need to try again a little differently. And who knows, you might just find yourself taking off and "cruising" into a new habit.

• Dr. Corey Pavitt is a chiropractic physician, competitive bodybuilder, and a recreational yoga, cycling and hiking enthusiast. He and his wife Ellen own and operate Pavitt Health and Fitness. His Wednesday Juneau Empire column has run for more than nine years and will continue in addition to this bimonthly article.

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