Many of the people I work with in therapy have expressed a desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle in 2015. Those in the baby boomer generation, now experiencing midlife, are thinking more along the lines of a lifestyle redesign than just creating or improving a few habits. A baby boomer myself who has embraced a number of healthy lifestyle changes in the past few years, I have been sharing some of what both modern neuroscience and my own experience have taught me about how to approach the change process for the best results.
Readiness for change is impossible to predict, create, or control, and often shows up in our lives after a long period of denial and pain about what isn’t working. Sometimes there is an event that ignites our determination, but most often change begins when we have simply gotten fed up with the way things are. Change is something we are often looking for in others, or we want someone to change along with us. This is especially true of couples. The truth of the matter is the only one you can change is you.
The desire, readiness, and motivation for change happen if and when we are ready to allow it to happen, and not a moment sooner. Sometimes our enthusiasm is contagious and we are able to get others to join in, but if you are ready now, get started—don’t wait for someone who may not be. Others are on their own timetables. Most people find it helpful to surround themselves with like-minded people who have similar goals. If we aren’t lucky enough to have this support in our family and friend circle, it may be worthwhile to seek out a community-based group to meet this need.
The journey of change in our lives is typically one of alternating periods of forward momentum and periods of sliding back to our former, default settings. If we accept that this reflects the nature of the change process and says nothing about us, we can decide that a setback is not the same thing as giving up, and simply recommit to the positive changes we have decided to make. We don’t have to do anything perfectly in order to embrace healthy change. We just have to stick with it and make the decision to resume again after periods of regression to our former habit patterns.
Even if change feels intimidating or threatening to us on an unconscious level, that doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Growth occurs only when we step outside our comfort zone. As we are able to stay with the discomfort of the unknown, we learn to relax as the experience is integrated into the brain’s neural mapping. Soon, the unknown becomes the known and is no longer scary. This is the same process we go through all of our lives in countless ways. By this age and stage, it can feel as exciting as it does dangerous. I have found that mindfulness practice of some form of meditation is a great tool for managing the anxiety that often accompanies change.
Often at midlife, changes in our health habits reflect shifts going on internally in areas of relationships, career, and unfulfilled dreams and plans. The change that is occurring on the outside is reflective of changes occurring on the inside. Change is often thought of as scary and destabilizing, but there are times when staying the same seems even more so. If you are ready for change, a good place to start is accepting yourself where you are, deciding on a step you’d like to take, and taking it. Then, keep going.
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