I have another confession. I used to be a couch potato. Yeah, big time. I even wrote an essay on it in my freshman college writing class. Got an A- too. My extremely athletic writing instructor said it made her laugh out loud. I still have that paper. It makes me laugh now as well.
Until around my early 30’s I was able to make my couch potato ways work for me. I had an active job, and two young boys to chase around. I never gained any weight. I felt fine. Why even bother to exercise?
Until one day I was at the local grocery which had 2 floors. I hiked the stairs to the second floor and found myself completely winded. Breathing like I just sprinted a mile in record time. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit, but I was far too winded for a healthy woman in her early 30’s. I got my first inkling that I needed to do something about my couch potato ways before they got any worse.
Numerous goals involve lifestyle change.
Perhaps we picked up some bad habits along the path of life, which are currently, or will be in the future, impacting our health in a negative manner.
Or maybe it’s the other direction. Like me and my couch potato ways, and we need to create some new habits to ward off the physical and mental diseases of a sedentary lifestyle.
Which ever the case may be, it could be both, it’s going to involve the loss of a former way of life. And loss is hard.
Our habits are in a death and rebirth process. In order for the non-smoker to be born, the smoker must die. In order for the healthy-eater to be born, the junk-food junkie must die. In order for the athlete to be born, the couch potato must die.
Although death seems so final, many of us hold a believe that when we pass from this life we are reborn into another, better plane of existence. And we can use a similar theory toward our goal-achieving; the old habit and way of life dies, a new and improved one is born.
As with any great loss, we will grieve. Even though we know deep within our hearts, it is for the best, and we welcome the person we are striving to be, we will, from time to time, mourn the person and way of life we are losing.
There are 5 stages of grief involving loss. If left unattended they may derail our progress, and forward motion, or send us right back to the starting point. It is best to be aware of and on the lookout for the stages of grief while working the steps to change. And similar to the Stages of Change model Goal Setting: Part 1, the Stages of Grief model is fluid and you may find yourself wavering a bit back and forth between the stages.
- Denial-similar to the precontemplation stage of change, this is a state where we are unwilling to admit our bad habit, or lack of good habit, is a problem, and think any of the bad consequences that happen to others could happen to us.
- Anger-anger at the habit itself or the steps we have to take to rid ourselves of the behavior. Or at our old selves for getting us into a situation that requires change.
- Bargaining-you are just trying to postpone the inevitable here. Just one cigarette, just one more drink, blow off class, just one french fry, I’ll do twice as much tomorrow…. This is pure BS at work. You cannot bargain your way out of a bad or into a good habit.
- Sadness-your bad habit has probably either chemically altered, re-wired your brain, or both. Until you go through the physical and mental withdrawals, get your brain wired correctly, sadness and it’s wicked stepsister depression will likely appear. Plan in advance on how you will deal with this.
- Acceptance- this is similar to the maintenance stage of change, I like to refer to this stage, in relationship to goals, as freedom. You have accepted your new reality and are comfortable in your new role.
The time period for lifestyle change and the feelings that accompany it is different for each individual person, and varies for every particular goal.
Leaving the couch potato behind and finding my inner athlete was a relatively easy process for me. The immediate gratification, the good feelings, both physically and mentally that exercise brought to the table were hugely motivating. I have not stopped moving since.
Leaving the cigarettes behind was a much, much harder process. No immediate gratification there. The physical part of nicotine withdrawal is about 72 hours for us cold turkey types. The mental, re-wiring process took an entire year of going through numerous life situations (good and bad), every single holiday and event, without my pack of smokes and trusty lighter to keep me calm and happy. I literally had to relearn life as a non-smoker. I mourned that habit for a long time…
…But not anymore. Truthfully, I don’t even think about it except to feel grateful for my improved health and fattened wallet.
And the couch potato? She found a new career teaching people the joys of health through movement. She runs 10ks. She writes motivating blog posts.
And, man, does she fly up those stairs. Freedom rocks.