Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A New Spin on New Year's Resolutions; or getting to the root of our ruts.

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

Every year since the beginning of time(or at least I started writing this blog), I have done a new years resolution blog a few days before January with all of these recommendations on how to stay(or get) healthy. Even last year, I did one, albeit my laziest to date. But I'd say that through the years I've given everyone some pretty good insight on how to get and stay healthy.

As well-intentioned as they were, I think the problem with this is that(besides the fact that my readership population skews to the healthy side of the nature) it doesn't address motivation and getting you away from the computer and out the door(or at least standing or brushing your teeth).

What I should have done and what I hope to do this year, is give you some info on some of the subtle ways your body and mind may be holding you back."Getting healthy" often isn't enough for most people to make huge changes in their lives.  And while most of my recommendations weren't too huge individually, when you look at them together they can be overwhelming.

And that was my first mistake. To increase the likelihood of getting someone to do something, you really should minimize choices. Too many and you get decision paralysis which can lead to increased stress and decreased feelings of control.

Feelings of control is imperative in health and wellness. People who feel they have no control over their situations(i.e. an external locus of control), have significantly worse mental health outcomes and are harder to motivate and actually have shorter life spans(remember those patients in the nursing home who were told they needed to water the plants and then lived longer?. This also of control(real or perceived) can lead to learned helplessness.

I know there are better videos online to explain learned helplessness but I like this one because it's from 1952 which tells me we've known about this theory for a long time.  Loss of control can go hand and hand with low self esteem(but doesn't have to: think of the overachiever in school who has plenty of self efficacy but maybe not such high self-esteem).

Low self-esteem besides obvious mental health issues, can also impact one's motivation through something called the attributional theory. Typically when we do something good we attribute it to an inherent intrinsic skill(i.e. get an A on the test and you are SMART). Fail the test though? Now you blame it on a malleable intrinsic fault(like not studying enough). People with low self-esteem may view that A as being due to luck while an F is sure sign of stupidity. This also occurs with health where people with low self-esteem may view themselves as unable to get healthy because of some intrinsic  fail in their body.

So obviously the perfect storm would be someone with an external locus of control, learned helplessness, low self-esteem and efficacy who has decision paralysis. What to do with a person like that?

I'd say pick the easier thing to accomplish. Maybe that's flossing your teeth everyday or spending some time dedicated to mindfulness. Whatever is least stressful and most do-able. Like those nursing home residents who "just" watered the plants, this one task may be what it takes to improve your ability to view yourself as having the opportunity to make a change. I realize this has already been pretty esoteric, but there is one more theory that can come into play. And that's the exposure effect.

This theory suggests that things we are frequently exposed to we will eventually develop a natural fondness of. Obviously we can all think of  a song on the radio that we have been OVERLY exposed to that negates this theory but the thought is more on the moderate frequency(like exercising 5-6 days a week, or participating in a yoga class a few days a week). The more you do it, the more you like it.
Coming from someone that used to hate running, it is true. It just takes time. I promise.

Good luck!

Until next time,


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