Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Awareness of negative consequences of poor choices motivates change

Stress for Success

May 20, 2014

Have you ever hung a photo of your heaviest self on your refrigerator door to discourage you from eating unhealthy and fattening stuff? If so, you may also have read self-esteem advisers telling you that was a bad idea because it was putting yourself down.

Not so fast. Perhaps telling your self-esteem to look the other way is worth it if reminding yourself of the negative consequences of overeating help you to get your eating under control.

In my 2010 published book, Let Your Body Win, Stress Management Plain and Simple,
I quoted researcher Dr. Mary Ann Chapman who addressed what best motivates us to make difficult changes:
“The key to breaking a bad habit (e.g., avoiding exercise) and adopting a good one (e.g., regular exercising) is making changes in your daily life that minimize the influence of the now and remind you of the later.”

In other words:
    Minimize the immediate reward from avoiding exercising.
    Make the long-term negative consequences of not exercising - continued depression/anxiety/anger/weight gain - seem more immediate.
So instead of excuse after excuse to avoid exercise, remind yourself how tired you are of being emotionally stuck and exhausted.

To put her theory to work on your own bad habits, you’ll need to expand your conscious awareness of your unhealthy choices even as you are making them and be very aware of their resulting negative consequences.

For example, if you know, in your heart of hearts, that you overeat but you still keep on doing it, consider keeping track on paper what you snack on every day of the week for at least a couple of weeks. Once you come face-to-face with evidence that you eat monstrous amounts of ice cream virtually every night, for example, it’s hard to deny it. Then, ask yourself which negative consequences you experience from this unhealthy habit. Your list might include:
·         Your inability to lose weight;
·         Your excess weight’s negative impact on your joints;
·         Low energy due to being overweight;
·         Etc.

Try Dr. Chapman’s advice to break your bad ice cream habit by remaining consciously aware on a daily basis of the negative consequences of it. If that means post those “fat” photos of yourself on your refrigerator – or better yet, on the freezer – then do so. You could similarly post words or photos representing joint pain and low energy to keep them in your conscious awareness. When you experience the joint pain and fatigue, consciously connect them right then and there to your over-eating habits.

It’s great to motivate yourself with positive images – if that works for you. But if nothing is working to change your bad habits, consider a different motivation. This is how I successfully changed many a bad habit in my own life. When I read Dr. Chapman’s research, I knew it was true because it had worked for me so often.

I challenge you right now to identify something you’ve been saying you want to change for a long time but haven’t. Pay conscious attention to it for a week or two and honestly note the negative consequences of it. Figure out how to keep these negative consequences in front of you daily until you successfully change for the better. Good luck.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html.  Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com