Thursday, June 24, 2010

Building a New Habit

I am so excited that I am successfully incorporating a new habit - regular exercise - in to my routines. A measurable, positive effect of this change is that I have managed to reduce my A1C from 7.0 to 6.6! My doctor says that most often patients are unsuccessful at incorporating lifestyle change, and that the family doctor usually adjusts by modifying medication. I credit the group instructors of Force and Zumba at World Health, Darcy at the Primary Care Network, and the lay instructors for "Live Better Every Day", Bill and Lorraine, for enthusiastically supporting me towards my goal.

I've targeted regular exercise as my chief bugbear since hitting the third habit in Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ”. This third habit is “Put First Things First”, managing yourself. The idea is that before you can be effective and influential in your job - out there - in the world - you need to conquer your internal, personal world. Covey asks the reader,

What one thing could you do (you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular
basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?

Covey’s book, originally launched in 1989, was hugely influential and often quoted. I’ve heard anecdotally that fewer people have actually read it from cover to cover. When I read the book in 2008 I found it to be hugely helpful, but I put the book down for a few months when I hit the third habit, putting first things first. The book demands action, and I wasn’t ready to make the change.

That question for habit three put me on hold. I believe it is Covey's call to change personal habits that makes the book difficult; not that the principles themselves are hard to understand.

Once I began the journey to conquer my personal new habit of fitness and exercise, I was able to finish the rest of the book in a few weeks.

Starting new habits and breaking old bad ones is tough. Our bodies quickly get comfortable with routines, and resist change. But regularly raising the bar and incorporating new habits builds strength and invigorates the mind. Have you seen those spry eighty-seven year olds? Wonder how they do it? They’ve incorporated this important lesson of continuous self-improvement.

These days, when the "powers that be" recognize a social problem, their first plan of attack is to educate the public. But personally, I don’t need more education. I know what is good for me. The problem has always been a matter of application, the incorporation of new habits.

My recent discovery is in the application of some tried and true practices to help me build new habits. I attended a once-a-week, six weeks course called “Living Better Every Day ” sponsored by Alberta Health Services, and developed by Stanford’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program . The tools I practiced in the past six weeks have effectively helped me build new habits in to my daily routine. Here are ten steps gleaned from my learning and living in the past few years and months:

  1. Are you ready to change?
  2. Develop a SMART action plan for the next week.
  3. Write your action plan down.
  4. Keep a log or diary of your progress. I use the carrot.
  5. Recruit accountability partners (family or friends).
  6. Review and reflect on your progress weekly, and make adjustments as needed.
  7. It takes about twenty-one days to turn your new activity in to a new habit.
  8. Continually review your action plan and targets to keep away boredom, and within a few months you have established a new routine.
  9. Remember that relapses happen to nearly everyone. Anticipate possible causes for a relapse (i.e. interruptions to routine like holidays) and adjust your plan. After a relapse, create a new action plan without guilt.
  10. Trust the process. To keep from being overwhelmed, focus on the next action rather than the ultimate goal.

That's it. The work is in the doing, not in the reading. Steps one and two, I would say, are the most critical to success. Be ready and set small, achievable goals and you are well on your way. Occassional intensive diarizing has helped me connect behavior with consequences; first with food, and now with activity. I can no longer brush off that achey, lazy feeling as being "tired". My body, rather, is begging for movement.

Whatever stage you are at in your change journey, I wish you all success and great supporters along the way.