- Written by Andi Waisman, Healthy Living Program Manager
- Published: 12 April 2018
Be gentle & forgiving with yourself to change behaviors
I have worked in public health my whole life, reaching people with many different health challenges who are in various stages of changing some behavior. Some people have been challenged to change their risky sexual behavior, their smoking behavior, their drug use behavior, their relationship behavior, their parenting behavior and so on. Most recently, I have the privilege to work with individuals with chronic conditions who are hoping to play a more active role in managing them.
Though millions of us Americans are living with a chronic illness that could be helped by some lifestyle changes, we all find it difficult to change our behaviors. Those of us who have tried to quit smoking, change bad eating habits, increase our exercise, stop risky behaviors as well as those researching change know how difficult behavior change can be. We have learned that people changing their behaviors, regardless of what the behavior is, move slowly through various stages from intention to long-term success. We stop and start. We relapse. We progress. And that’s okay – it’s part of the process.
Research has shown that by making some lifestyle changes, we can significantly affect our health and our quality of life – and those same researchers have identified the factors that influence us to move through the stages to success. Sometimes, just giving people basic information will be enough to move them along the process of change. Sometimes people begin to think about changing when they realize that their behavior has an effect on the people they care about. Sometimes, the act of making and expressing a commitment to a new behavior is what people need to move them forward. Sometimes the work to support someone changing is the work of building confidence, helping them believe that they can be successful and change their negative internal messages to messages of confidence.
Our Healthy Living workshops at LifePath help you use these tools. We serve people who want to get their appetite back, find ways to cook for just one person, manage symptoms, manage their diabetes through diet and exercise, eat more vegetables and add more grain to their diet, fight all kinds of illnesses. They want to get strong enough and have enough balance to get on a bus, to walk their dogs, and to hike in the woods on rough terrain. Our students want to learn how to accomplish their daily activities (gardening, spring cleaning, paperwork) again while managing their chronic pain. We grow confidence in people by asking them to break things down in more doable chunks and by giving information. We teach our students to create confidence-building statements, to find creative ways to integrate physical activity into our lives, and to support each other to solve problems. We make commitments each week to tackle a small, achievable goal and share ideas about issues that concern us.
For me, it was a bout with cancer that pushed me to finally quit smoking. For two of our Healthy Eating students, it was the act of monitoring their eating habits daily, realizing how their eating contributed to their diabetes problems, that helped them to integrate more healthy eating habits into their life. For several of our chronic pain students, just getting information from a peer who also suffers from pain is what it took for them to become open to trying the strategies we teach.
We stop and start. We relapse. We progress. We are grateful to be walking together.
Click here to learn more about Healthy Living or call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.