I am doing a lot of thinking as of late on the notion of change – how we change, why we frequently can’t change when we want, and what we seem to change effortlessly – and why it is effortless sometimes, and an absolute hell other times.
Most of us are capable of far more than it seems to us as well as others – why do we fall short? And why (and how) do others who succeed get beyond this?
The following thought came to mind the other day: am I merely a sum of my habits and my possessions? What would be left if these were stripped away? I began to think about Viktor Frankl’s book: Man’s Search for Meaning where, as a concentration camp survivor, he did indeed have all his previous habits and possessions stripped from him. I’m also remeinded of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag’ books, where story after story tells of the same ego-death.
This, I believe has a connection to the art of change, and change is what we’re all here for, right? We want to lose a few pounds – OK, maybe more than a few.
But it ain’t really about the diet – it’s about your ability to change. And, as one old post of mind was titled, if you can change your weight, you can change your life entirely – not because being thin suddenly provides a world of endless advantages, but overcoming the odds instills something in you – what this is can be found in the books mentioned above.
The Gulag books are 3 fat volumes and probably over 3000 pages, so I’m not going there anytime soon, but I do think I’m going to run to the bookstore today and pick up Man’s Search for Meaning.
Now, most people trying to lose a few pounds don’t run out and buy books about surviving Nazi death camps as part of their strategy to lose weight, but I don’t think I’ve ever led you folks to believe that I take a conventional approach to anything.
I leave you with a rerun from a year ago on changing habits, and my thoughts at the time. Hopefully you find it meaningful.
Make a Habit of Making New Habits
If you are fat and would like to lose weight, you are going to have to change.
Change is tough for a lot of people – it’s as if they have become their habits – or disappeared into their habits. They’ve ossified – turned to stone, essentially, in the way they deal with the world. They tend to say: “This is just the way I am.”
They climbed inside their habits so long ago they’ve forgotten that habits are something you wear, and you can change them any time – just like clothing.
They are confusing their clothes with their skin.
To continue with this metaphor, the difficulty in changing habits is that many times there are no new habits to ‘wear’ once you change out of the old habits. When you try to break old habits, it is handy to have some new habits – or better habits less ‘worn’ – to wear.
Most people who’ve successfully stopped smoking replaced the habit of smoking with another, somewhat similar habit, like chewing gum – at least for a while.
Getting rid of an old habit without some similar replacement – even a temporary one, is tougher than swapping habits. We like habits, they can be useful, they are comfortable, we do them without thinking.
God knows I’d never find my car keys without them.
Breaking bad habits is a hard thing to do even with replacements. Especially the bad ones.
Bad habits are typically formed when you decide not to think about things – they grow like weeds in empty soil (to switch metaphors). If you don’t plant something there, the weeds will come. Overeating is one such habit. Unless you are bulimic, most times you don’t consciously choose to overeat – it just happens without thinking.
When it comes to low carb, you have an advantage over other people trying to lose weight. You can eat – they can’t. Low calorie dieting requires a lot of ‘not doing’ – not eating.
And the proponents of low calorie diets say replace the bad habit of overeating with the good habit of exercise.
Nice thought, but it’s really hard to swap out a good habit with a bad habit.
Teacher – more homework, please.
It’s so moralistic. In the low calorie way of losing weight, it’s just a matter of will. You don’t have the willpower to lose weight? You fat slob.
Atkins allows you to eat – maybe not the stuff that made you fat, but you have a replacement habit (eating low carb) that is somewhat similar to the habit you are replacing.
You are swapping eating till full with eating low carb to full – it’s easier to swap out an old habit for a new one if they are somewhat similar.
Replacing eating with exercise is like replacing your hat with your shoe (to go back to my clothes metaphor).
When you start Atkins, it’s a great time to inventory all your habits and see which ones you might want to change. If you’ve begun Atkins, you’ve begun making changes in your life – maybe for the first time in years, and this can provide the momentum to change other things as well.
This inventory can be a scary process. It might feel threatening. That’s good – it’s means you are making progress. Life isn’t all about ‘being comfortable’ – and if that thought scares you, get used to it.
You are a human, in a time and a place that offers so much more than mere comfort.
So take the opportunity to make new habits. New habits that are good for you, like exercise, are tough, so start easy, if you like. The point here is to consciously make new habits – not the new habit itself. Start easy, then go for the big ones.
Here’s a simple one – put your car keys in a different place. Dumb? Well, if you only look at it from the outside, it is dumb, but what you are doing is getting in the habit of swapping habits. You are rattling your own cage, even in a small way, and the exercise acclimates you to the habit of changing habits. Do other ‘dumb’ habit changes: take a new route to work, or the grocery store. Rearrange your furniture or the contents of your cabinets. I’m sure you get the idea.
When you begin doing this on a regular basis, you begin to consciously reprogram your brain and replace unconscious habits with conscious habits. When you stop going to the old spot for your car keys and go to the new spot – there! – you have proof that you can reprogram yourself.
This can be empowering. If you feel totally helpless, then prove to yourself that you can make small changes, it will become easier to make the big changes as well.
This exercise builds momentum, as I stated before, and it will help your diet when you hit those rough patches.