This simple change in thinking can help you make healthy changesDave Smith
If you’ve ever tried to choose a healthier lifestyle, you’ve probably learned that you resist change despite the best intentions. This is true for goals such as losing weight, eating healthier, exercising regularly or sleeping on time. Discard the kind whispers of breath with harsh “truths” about their deficiencies. It may be motivated by enthusiastic enthusiasts and promises of rewards, but they soon lose their appeal. And, you probably defend yourself or collapse in the face of tough demands, none of which results in success.
But don’t give up, there’s still hope. In 2018, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania devised a totally different approach.
They discovered that people can benefit by focusing their attention on important connections in their lives, rather than just focusing on themselves and their goals. They asked a group of people to imagine a future time in which they could feel close to important connections, such as family, friends, God or their higher power. They asked a second group of people to make positive wishes for people they knew and for strangers. And they asked a third control group to reflect on their own less important values. Then, all groups received direct messages about the importance of being more physically active. For a month, they received daily text messages reminding them to repeat the same mental experiment. The two groups that were directed to think beyond themselves were much more active than the control group. These “self-transcendence” groups also showed increased activity in the areas of their brains that are associated with rewards and positive responses.
The researchers suggested that by connecting with something beyond you, you are more likely to appreciate yourself as a complete person, rather than the specific challenging behavior. In a sense, it allows you to lower your defenses enough to be more open to making lifestyle changes.
Develop reasons to participate in new and healthier behavior. For example, the researchers gave their subjects the messages that being active will strengthen their muscles, allowing them to move more easily and enjoy activities for longer. They suggested developing the habit of climbing the stairs (when possible) instead of the elevator. Finally, they explained that sedentary people have an increased risk of heart disease, illness and premature death.
Enter these reasons on your phone and set a daily reminder. Choose a time when you are most likely to pay full attention to this exercise. At the appointed time, think briefly about connecting with your loved ones or making positive wishes for others. Allow yourself to observe and absorb the positive feelings that accompany this thought. Then read your note about the importance of making the chosen behavior change.
You may find it helpful to plot your chosen behavior. For example, you can observe the days you have taken the steps at work instead of the elevator, or parked at the far end of the parking lot to walk more. Or, if you are trying to eat healthier, you can record your daily food choices. Seeing achievements documented in this way is motivating for many people.
Paradoxically, by connecting with someone or something beyond yourself, you can nourish yourself. You may feel a greater sense of well-being and be in a better position to face the challenge of changing your habits and creating a healthier lifestyle.
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