Today I ponder the problem:
▪ What keeps us from taking the first, even the tiniest, step towards making a change for self-improvement?
▪ What keeps us in that hopeless/helpless state when we know that making such a change could mean living longer with a higher quality of life?
An Example from Cancer Survivors
Who can feel more helpless and hopeless than someone who has been diagnosed with cancer?
We now know that there are many lifestyle changes that can be made to help reduce the chance of a cancer diagnosis.
However, never getting cancer or catching it early requires taking proactive action when one feels fine and has no symptoms.
What kinds of behaviors are we talking about?
▪ Quit smoking, lose weight, reduce body fat, eat less sugar, use sun screen, get regular check-ups including mammograms, a PSA test, and a colonoscopy.
When others suggest that we take these actions we often find ourselves resistant. When we tell ourselves to take these actions we often procrastinate and find some excuse not to complete the plan.
Fear and Avoidance
Why don’t individuals get a recommended mammogram, PSA test, or colonoscopy?
I find two common answers to the above query: Too afraid! Or, too busy!
They are afraid of being diagnosed with cancer and facing death, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, pain, hair loss, etc., etc.
Individuals find themselves too busy to take time off from work, family obligations, and their own personal schedule. All too often I hear:
▪ “I can’t take time off from work to get these medical tests.
▪ "I don’t have an hour a day in my schedule to exercise"
▪ "Quitting smoking and losing weight are just hard and time consuming.”
First Steps to Positive Behavior Change
1. Make a grand symbolic gesture. Cut off a six inch braid of hair to be donated to make wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment. Such a gesture sets up confidence and commitment to self: “If I can cut off my hair for cancer, I can certainly get an annual Pap smear.”
2. Do it for your brother of sister. Most of us have lost someone we know and love to cancer, a family member or friend. If you can’t make a change for yourself, then make one on behalf of the loved one.
3. Help another. If a friend or loved one is not making a needed change, how responsible are you for helping them. I say it is so important that it is worth nagging them even if it risks straining the relationship. Let them know that is how much you care about them.
4. Be a nag. Forty years ago, my best friend who lost a father and grandfather to lung cancer nagged me for a year to quit smoking. It worked. I quit at the age of twenty-five and am thankful to this day for her commitment to being a “caring nag.” And, our friendship got stronger.
5. Accept and invite the nagging. I never resented the nagging. Knew my friend had my best interest at heart. Just got tired of it and decided it was easier to quit than be nagged.
6. "Get a foot in the door." Start small; not ready to start an exercise program or new diet - then read about them. Go visit a gym and observe. Try one aerobics class.