Action Begets Change (and motivation)
When it comes to changing our lifestyle, especially the hard stuff like how we eat, move and live, it can feel like an uphill battle. Status quo is easier, familiar, comforting... and this makes sense. Have you ever seen the Dreamworks movie The Croods? Without getting into the details, the premise is that following a catastrophic event that turns their lives upside down (hmmm, sound vaguely familiar 🤔), a young cave-girl is wanting do things differently, to explore her world and change her lifestyle. On the other hand, her father, the older wiser caveman, is constantly holding her back and telling her to stick with status quo. Status quo is safe. It's a scary world out there with things that want to kill you and eat you, so best to keep things the way they are. Our brains are a bit like The Croods. Our amygdala, sometimes called the reptilian or lizard brain is like the father. It likes to keep things the same. It wants to keep us safe by doing what we've always done, because hey, we're still living so we must be doing something right! On the other hand, our prefrontal cortex or executive functioning brain can see benefits, opportunities and possibilities in doing things differently. It's like the little girl. It can reason that if I eat better, I'll feel better. It recognizes that being sedentary has consequences. It knows that being in "GO!" mode for 14, 16, or 18 hrs a day without pausing to rest, relax and take a few deep breaths will lead to burnout. We've all experienced this familiar push and pull. Our prefrontal cortex is pushing for change while the amygdala is digging in its heels to stick with status quo. How can we move beyond this impasse? The commonly held belief is that we need motivation (or inspiration or desire) to initiate change and willpower (or grit or resolve) to maintain it. The challenge is that both of these come in limited supply, and often fail us when we need them most. But what if the equation was reversed? What if a small daily action builds confidence and increases self-efficacy (I can do this!) and that's what creates the motivation for lasting change?
The Power of Taking Action Action comes before motivation. A tiny action can help us bust out of procrastination and feeling "stuck". The key is to make the first action small. Something that doesn't threaten status quo and tip off the amygdala. It should feel easy to do. If it's too difficult, too big of a step, then you'll experience resistance. Small actions create momentum. Action is empowering. Doing something puts us in control. Action is satisfying. Doing something makes us feel better. Action is evidence. It's proof that we are capable of change. An action that takes 5-10 minutes is the perfect starting point. Here are a few examples: You want to get more sleep: Go to bed 10 minutes earlier than normal. After 4 or 5 days, go to bed another 10 minutes earlier. Repeat again. By the end of 2 weeks, you're now getting 30 extra minutes of sleep. You want to feel less stressed: After climbing into bed and getting settled, take 5 minutes to think of 3 amazing things that happened today. Focusing on the positive generates feelings that are soothing to our nervous system and lowers cortisol levels, the body's stress hormone.
You want to make time for exercise: Spend 10 minutes at the beginning of your week looking at your schedule and then blocking time for exercise. If you need to, register or sign-up for a class. Once you've put that appointment on your calendar, treat it the same as a meeting with your boss, a date with your significant other, or your kid's hockey/basketball/soccer game. Your health is of equal importance to these other things. You want to eat more vegetables: On Sunday, while making supper, take an extra 10 minutes to chop up your favorite veggies and put them in small baggies or containers - one for each day of the week. In the morning, grab a container to take for lunch or as a snack. You want to drink more water: Take 5 minutes to dig around in your cupboard and find a water bottle - there's likely one in there somewhere and then fill it up first thing in the morning. Keep it with you and make it your goal to empty it by lunch. Fill it up again and do your best to drink it all before the end of the work day. Fill it up one more time and empty it a couple hours before going to bed. I don't recommend guzzling a full water bottle just before bed, or you'll end up having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom! 😊 Now it's your turn. What small, 5-10 minute action can you take that will move you forwards towards improved health?