It had to happen, it was inevitable. As predictable as the Boxing Day holiday ads. Plum (no pun!)in the middle of the pudding, the only time of year we’re allowed to be a little overindulgent in the food, drink and couch potato department and not feel guilty because everyone else is doing it…comes a headline-making report from Public Health England (PHE) that a staggering 8 out of 10 adults between 40 and 60 are unfit, ouch!
As one who, age-wise, is right in the thick of this demographic, I read the report with interest and not a little anxiety. Four-fifths of us ‘middle-aged’ are either overweight, drink too much; take too little exercise or, presumably, a combination of all three.
And what is one to do about this moribund state of affairs? Particularly when the cupboard is still brimming with Christmas cake, mince pies, liqueur chocolates and that peculiar seasonal tipple, advocaat?
Well, PHE requires us all to turn over a new leaf in 2017 and make a solemn pledge to get fitter. Whilst acknowledging the extremely busy lives the ‘sandwich generation’ have (I’m more of a beans on toast man, personally), the exhortation is, nevertheless, to change our habits, take small but meaningful steps to more exercise, a better diet and, naturally, to cut down on the drink.
Helpfully, there’s a quiz provided on the PHE website to help us firstly understand the scale of our excess and then lashings of good advice, including the obligatory apps, to ‘help us make healthy changes’.
Hmm, given that most of this information will come as little surprise to most people who, lets be honest, have become somewhat inured to these findings and statistics and considering that the scale of the health problem appears to be getting worse, year after year, how confident should we be that middle-aged folk will take on board this perfectly reasonable advice and make permanent, positive lifestyle changes in the new year and beyond?
Well, unless we really understand the driving forces that, ultimately, will decide whether we can make permanent change in our lives, the answer, alas, is not very confident at all.
Indeed, while the PHE report is very likely published at this time of year to coincide with all those new years resolutions, the sad truth is that the majority won’t heed the advice and even the best 2017 pledges will crash and burn, many even before Epiphany (6th January for you heathens!).
Why? Well, it was Anthony Robbins in the early 1990s who succinctly outlined the two overwhelming driving forces in our lives, namely pain and pleasure, the simple premise being that everything in our lives that we do, or don’t do, is born out of our need to avoid pain or our desire to gain pleasure.
Nowhere is this more telling than in the resolutions we do or don’t make. We may tell ourselves that getting fitter is a damn fine idea, especially as it appears to be based on sound evidence. The thought of getting our behind in gear brings us a little pleasure, however, the pain of actually taking action, changing our diet, cutting out the things we like to eat and drink, getting up early to go to the gym or out running, outweighs any small pleasure we derived from the thought of making a move.
Only the increasing of pleasure to take action, or the increasing of pain if we don’t, will enable us to make the change.
To illustrate, consider the number of stories you’ve heard of the celebrity alcoholic, who only changed their lifestyle on being advised by their doctor that if they didn’t quit, they would be dead in months! This news caused the pain of not taking action to increase dramatically. An example of this is Rick Wakeman who, on receiving this advice from his doctor, went home and played the piano, stopping his practice in floods of tears at the thought that if he didn’t heed this advice his piano playing days were over. He stopped drinking immediately and never touched another drop.
Hopefully, none of us will receive such life-changing news from our doctor, but the fact remains, if we are to make lasting changes in our lives we need to learn how to use the two forces of pain and pleasure. If we do that, we’re in control of our lives, if we don’t, life will control us.
So, to heed PHE’s advice and get fitter and healthier, the first, and most positive step, is to increase the pleasure. How do we do that? Well, we need to really explore the many benefits. How will we feel if we take action? How will our significant others feel? What will they be saying? What will we be doing when we’re healthier? Who else will that help? What other benefits will taking action bring? How will we celebrate when we hit our goal?
Also, to provide us with even more motivation, we need to increase the pain of inactivity. Again, asking powerful questions can really help. How do we benefit by doing nothing? What’s likely to happen? What’s the impact on others? Where will we be in another five years? How do we feel about this?
This reasoning can be applied to anything we want to achieve, in our personal or professional lives. Instead of simply reasoning it would be a good thing to do; we need to always find ways to identify the pain and ramp up the pleasure.
So far, so good. We understand the forces that enable change. But we’re still unlikely to do this simply through our own effort. Indeed, research suggests that only around 4% of the population can achieve something through willpower alone, the rest of us need help.
Achieving something with a friend is twice the fun and you get ten times the encouragement. But even better, for those changes you simply have to make, why not begin the year by working with a professional, a person who completely understands what’s needed to achieve success and will be with you, every step of the way until you do?
In 2017, why don’t we, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world? It can be done, with the right knowledge, the right tools and the right help.
Happy New Year!