September 15

The psychology of health – Episode 6

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In this episode I explain the psychology of health. It is my belief being healthy is 100% psychology. 

The Psychology of Health

A couple of years one of the members of the gym I was part of lost a lot of weight. Up until then she had tired a number of things to lose weight but the weight stayed on.

That was until she celebrated Christmas with her partners family and a family photo was taken. When she saw the photo she was mortified. 

She hadn’t realised how much weight she had gained. Suddenly the fear of her health and the weight getting out of control came into the forefront.

She committed to doing what she can to lose weight. She went to a local slimming club, she exercised more and made sure to move more during the day. Over time a lot of what she did became habitual and the weight was coming off.

6 months later it was night and day the difference. She was the slimmest she had ever been.

Psychology is what made the difference

Yet, something interesting to note. She had been to the slimming club before, she was already part of the gym, she had tried losing weight in the past. What was different now?

The difference was her psychology. 

Why people don’t change

Why people don’t change is an interesting question. A study tracked over 150,000 adults from both rural and urban areas in multiple countries over a 6-year period. Among the 7,519 participants who had a cardiac event:

  • Only 4.3% of participants who had a cardiac event made changes in all three areas (smoking, diet, and exercise), over 30% changed their behaviours in two areas, and approximately 47% improved their practices in one area.
  • The lifestyle change that people had the most success with was, surprisingly, smoking cessation (52%). Healthy eating followed with 39%, while only 35% of participants said they became more physically active after a cardiac event.
  • Seven percent of women who had a heart attack or stroke made no lifestyle changes, while 26% of men made no changes.
  • Only 10-20% of patients eligible for cardiac rehabilitation programs actually sign up for them.

Why is this? Why, when even death is staring them in the face do people not change? There are 2 clear reasons relating to psychology. 

Reason No1 – Habit

The first is habit. The habits that led to heart disease have been honed over years. They are more familiar and frankly more desirable than any new habit you are looking to create. Habits are created because of your brains desire for energy efficiency. Habitual behaviours take less energy and so part of your brains preference is to do what you’ve done before.

When you change habits you want to do something different. This takes more energy to do so you have to have a pretty significant driver in your brain to keep doing these new behaviours until THEY become habit.

Reason No2 – Difficulty of Task

The second is the perceived gravity of the task. Imagine sitting in a hospital room, having just had heart surgery based on the last 30 years living in a certain way. Now you have been told you got to change your ways. Where the hell do you start?

Many will see this big mountain in their mind and conclude it was like the doctor has just said climb mount everest or you will die. Many conclude, well seeing that is impossible for me I may as well enjoy the rest of my life while I can.

Others will start off with the best of intentions but not see results fast enough, missing the point that increasing health is a lifestyle pursuit not a specific number of the scale. 

Psychology comes first, the rest follows

When people say they want to get healthier they focus on 2 things mainly; what they eat and how much exercise they do. Whilst both these areas are important they are both at the result phase of an equation that many miss the beginning of.

Health is 100% psychology because if your mind isn’t set you won’t have the staying power to do the eating, to do the exercise, to do the abundant movement necessary to be healthier.

So how do you start to get your psychology right on being healthier? These are 5 points you have to integrate.

5 Points to Optimise your Psychology

1 Make your goals tangible

Being healthy is ambiguous, you have to be clear – What does being healthy look like. If I was being filmed for a reality tv show what would viewers see that would have them conclude you are living a healthy life

2 Anticipate roadblocks

When you are creating new habits, the old habits will be easier & more familiar for you to do. Map out what the roadblocks are and determine what to do about them

3 Notice & celebrate your Mini wins

The brain operates on little dopamine spikes. You have to recognise mini wins because being healthy is a life long process. This means mini wins along the way and perks of being healthy

4 Visualise & Verbalise you “Why” / purpose

You have to get out of the weight loss mindset. Healthy is ambiguous, so you have to have a drive. This is the why behind the why – its your why for wanting to be healthier. It has to be emotionally led rather than rational led.

5 Be Open to change

Beliefs about yourself and your abilities will shine through. They will want to keep you as you are. Beliefs are rigid but being open to the idea they can change is the route to being healthier.

Conclusion

When you want to change, its easy to focus on the behaviours. Yet, nearly every goal that is left unmet leave a trail of evidence that it is your psychology that faltered first. Sort your psychology out and the rest will follow.

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