Do you have a health habit that you’re trying to change?
Three years ago, we rescued a quirky 4 year old 98 pound labradoodle named Winston. Even though there was no mention from the Foster Mom about most of his aberrant behavior, we soon realized that he had numerous bad habits. And one of the worst was eating socks.
He was very sensitive to the activities of our household, and if he felt stressed, he would sneak into the laundry room and grab a sock off of the clothes drying rack. Usually he stole one of my knee-hi trouser socks, but anything he could find was fine for him.
He would then dash around the house playing “keep away,” and the game would usually end with him gulping down the sock. So we would then spend the next few days praying that it would “pass through,” and not require an expensive abdominal surgery.
When I discussed this with our dog trainer, she recommended a logical solution: keep the door to the laundry room closed! I clearly remember my response to her: “I can’t do that. I’m in and out of that room many, many times a day.”
It seemed like such a simple fix, but yet, I was resistant to making the change.
This incident has been a convincing life lesson for me about the power of habits. A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. And many of the habits with which we live our lives are efficient ways of behaving. Our brain develops habits to make our lives easier: I can make my morning coffee, brush my teeth and load the dish washer without a whole lot of thought.
As I’m now evolving through my “Golden Years,” a few minor health issues have grabbed my attention and compelled me to take a look at some of my health habits. As with my resistance to keeping the laundry room door closed, I noticed some resistance arising when I tried to make positive changes in my daily habits. For example, when a recent bone density test showed that I had borderline osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), I knew that I needed to be taking my calcium supplement at least twice a day, not just with dinner. But a little voice in my head said “I can’t take calcium with breakfast. It might upset my stomach for the whole day.”
Fortunately, with age oftentimes comes wisdom. From my experience of working in health care, I was aware of behavioral research on the habit change process and the concept of “mindset.” I knew that I had to change my mindset in order to accomplish this needed behavior change. My fixed mindset thinking was: “once when I took calcium with breakfast, I had an upset stomach.”
I also knew that it could take as long as 6 months before a new “neural pathway” would be established in my brain and this new habit of calcium with breakfast would be firmly and consistently in place. I have found this to be especially true when the benefit of the habit change is not immediately seen, or the goal that I’m hoping to achieve is quite “lofty” (I want to lose 20 pounds).
Who would have thought that such a powerful life lesson would come from a rescued, sock-eating dog? So often, we are resistant to make changes for reasons we don’t fully understand. I have learned to STOP, pause for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths and ask myself: what part of me is resisting this change? The answer may not come immediately, but it will come in time. For me the answer to the “calcium with breakfast” dilemma was “I’m too busy. I need to start working on my ‘to do” list, so I can’t risk having an upset stomach.”
One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. You just have to take the first step.”
I’m happy to report that Winston has stopped eating socks and to share with you that I now take my calcium twice a day 98.7% of the time. The effects of our good habits multiply over time. They may seem insignificant on any given day, but they can deliver a huge positive impact over the months and years to come.
I would love to discuss how YOU can make a positive health habit change in your life. I’m now offering a free 20-minute “Reach your Optimal Health Now” phone consult. You can schedule that here: http://Integralhealthsolutionswi.com/schedule/
Yours in Health,