How to create lasting change

Life Lessons

How to create lasting change

Plenty of information on nutrition and exercise is at our fingertips. Sure, we might need some one-on-one guidance, but even with it we often stall. The real challenge is taking action, and then sticking to it.

The bridge between info and action usually comes down to resolve. Ugh, I know. Think of it this way instead: We usually choose to do (or not do) things because we’re looking for a certain feeling. It’s not really the “thing” we’re after — it’s the feeling we think the thing will give us.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re not happy with your job because your boss is a bear and you work long hours. You’re stressed and want to take it down a notch. I need a new job, you think. So you get another job, one with a relaxed environment and a short workday. But your clients turn out to be high-maintenance and you can barely concentrate given the open floor plan. Now you’re stressed again, just about different stuff. In other words, the job — a thing — wasn’t what you were after. You were after a feeling: being at ease.

This is the sixth installment of a WorkLife series, Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.

If you can identify the feeling you’re seeking, it’s much easier to chart your course. Here’s your game plan:

Step 1. Dig deep.
If you don’t exercise or eat healthfully, consider why that is. Is it easier than being active and eating well? Because the food that’s bad for you tastes better than the healthy stuff (or so you think)? You’ve tried exercising in the past and didn’t like it? It’s hard to find the time to exercise (or so you think)? What are your patterns and justifications? Write them down.

Step 2. Get real.
Review your list and ask yourself how each reason makes you feel. Do this in two rounds. First, write down your initial reaction to each reason. Then look at each reason and sit with it for 5 minutes to see what feelings come up. Write them down. Be honest. No one but you is looking at the list. Flag any feelings you don’t want to have, and note the ones you do want to have.

Step 3. Indulge yourself.
Now think about how you’d like to feel. See yourself in environments that bring about the feelings you want — but focus on the feelings themselves. Again, don’t fantasize about a thing (a concept, object or status, such as “I’d like to have abs” or “I want to wear a size 6”) because you have no idea whether the concept/object/status will actually give you the feeling you want. Maybe you want abs or to wear a size 6 because you assume you’ll be more attractive, which means it’ll be easier for you to date whomever you want, which means you’ll finally find the partner you want, which means you’ll feel loved and secure. So really what you’re looking for is to feel loved and secure — the feelings you’re after are “love” and “security.” Write down the feelings you want to have.

You might notice that some of the feelings in step 2 are the same as in step 3. Interesting, right? In the next post or two, you’ll learn how to translate the feelings you desire into actions that are healthful. That will probably mean making some changes. But you get to decide what you’re willing to change — and what you’ll miss out on by not changing.

Journalist Mitra Malek regularly researches and creates content related to wellness for Yoga Journal, for which was an editor. Learn more at

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