By Dr. Stanley T. Lewis MD, MPH, AAHIVS
St. Hope Foundation
I believe that every person is born with the capacity for at least one big change in their lifetime. However, once a person realizes that they have this awesome power, they acquire the ability to change many times over. As a physician, far too often, I am convinced that I must care about my patient’s health more than they do. Despite my instructions, pleadings, counseling, scare-tactics, and handholding, I fail to get patients to change. Sometimes the consequences of the failure to change are distant or relatively minor. Sometimes the consequences are imminent and life-threatening. It doesn’t matter. I have given up trying to predict the message that will resonate and prompt any particular patient to change an unhealthy aspect of their life.
Intellectually, I know that quitting smoking, or losing weight, or maintaining an exercise regimen are significant aspects of a person’s life; especially if the patient is an adult, these types of changes can be monumental steps. I acknowledge that each person is different and their motivations can be different; Interestingly, I have come to believe that the formula for affecting change in life is remarkably constant. So instead of focusing on what needs to be changed in each patient to make them healthier, I’ve decided to elevate the conversation to focus on how we change. The formula for change is:
Do + Do x Do = Be
To understand and implement this formula, you must remember that ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are different. Doing is conscious and active. ‘Being’ is unconscious and passive. Change starts with doing and ends with being. Therefore, no matter what the change is, the first thing that you must do is to ‘just do it’. I realize this may sound trite. After all, a shoe company has sold a lot of athletic shoes by urging us to be doers. Nonetheless, doing is the first step toward change.
Another essential aspect of change is embracing the fact that the status quo is unacceptable. In turn this must lead to the inescapable conclusion that the problem with the status quo is you. If you blame your unhealthy situation on others or some external circumstance, you’ve lost the battle to change. Others are never yours to change and circumstances are often beyond your sphere of influence. The only variable in the equation of change that you can manipulate is you. It may help to find a role model (i.e. someone who appears to be the ‘you’ you want to be). The first steps of ‘doing’ will feel akin to an act. A person to imitate may give you a leg up in the beginning.
Start with doing the things the ‘you’ you want to be would do. Eventually, doing those things will become your way of doing (Do + Do X Do). If you persist, your way of doing will become your way of being (=Being). Healthy takes practice in the beginning, but it can ultimately become as passive and thoughtless as breathing. There’s no shortcut, no substitute, and no alternative path. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Just do healthier over and over and over until you are. Then, you will be healthier!
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