Are we indeed "creatures of habit" and if so is that a bad thing? Habits rule our behavior as much as choice, yet free will and making the right choices create good habits. The biggest challenge for all of us in pursuit of great health lies in making choices that lead to healthy habits. Or put another way, doing the simple things every day that add up over time to promote health.
In guiding patients to great health, I encourage them to consider the "keys" for great health. The keys include attitude, diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, digestive health, detoxification, supplements and hormone balance. The first 5 keys are primarily up to the patient to implement and as such rely on consistent efforts. Just how can we build those great health habits?
Health, like so many things, does not rely on a secret key that suddenly unlocks the pathway to success. We can't have instant success, instant loyalty or trust, instant weight loss, or instant health. Success starts with a desire, a vision and a plan. Success happens due to effort and perseverance. Success is achieved with everyday decisions that will compound over time to produce results.
Attitude means making the easy decisions every day that add up to great health. It is just as easy not to do the right thing, as it is to do the right thing. Eating that greasy cheeseburger and fries with a super-size soda is an easy choice - one that is not likely to kill you today, but compounded over time it will. Just as easy is to eat something healthy. Skipping exercise, again, is easy. So is making the choice to exercise. Great health starts with having the right attitude, determined to make the right choices - without the right attitude then you may as well stop reading now.
So we make the decision to have the right attitude... now to make the right choices and that's where habits come in. And here is where it gets hard. Often great habits involve making changes and change brings stress to our brain. We don't do so well with change. One problem is we try to change too much too fast or change is so overwhelming we can't imagine how to make it happen.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step," wrote Chinese Taoist philosopher and founder of Taoism over 2,000 years ago in his book "Tao Te Ching" or "The Book of the Way." And so it is with change - what seems impossible is usually possible but one has to start somewhere.
Many years ago as a house painter I encountered what I called the "overwhelming paralysis" of wondering where to start and how in the world I was going to finish painting some giant house all by myself. I quickly learned to quit thinking and start painting. Just pick a corner, preferably in the shade, focus on a small area, and start. A week later it was done. After a while what once seemed overwhelming was routine. It was a habit.
Same thing happened the first week of medical school - overwhelming paralysis. How in the world could any human being ever get through all the material we were expected to read, never mind remember it well enough to pass a test! I quickly reminded myself that many before me had managed to pull it off so I had faith I would be able to "get 'er done" and just started reading. That started the habit of getting up at 5 a.m. to study - still do, 7 days a week, and most of my columns are written early in the morning. Old habit.
Kaizen is a Japanese term that means "improvement" or "change for the better." It is a process that is embedded into the culture and leads to changes in everything from health care to industry. A continuous process of analyzing, rethinking, and making changes that lead to improvements in health or improvements in production. The key is that Kaizen emphasizes small but continuous changes. Again... SMALL changes.
Robert Maurer, Ph.D., and author of "One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way," explains that small continuous changes are what adds up to success in the long term. Successful Fortune 500 companies get to the top by making small, steady, and well thought out improvements. Weight loss may happen by first eating only one bite less with each meal, then later two bites less. Starting an exercise program might begin with simply walking around the block and each day going just a little bit further. This is the Kaizen way.
How do we incorporate Kaizen into our health habits? Pick one the 5 keys and start. Choose an area you know you need to do better with. Make one small change. Tomorrow do it again. When you have that change established you have created a new habit. It feels good. Make another small change. Pick another key to health and start with yet another small change.
Getting help with establishing good habits is always a great idea. This might mean finding a buddy to exercise with. When the weather is cold, my wife is usually the one that encourages me to leave the warm fire and get bundled up for our morning walk. And, of course, once I'm out there I'm glad to keep the habit going! Have lunch with the co-worker that appreciates good healthy food and encourages you to eat smart.
Working with a health coach is an easy and affordable way to help you establish goals and stick with them. Coaches are trained to analyze each individual's strengths and weaknesses and turn health goals into achievements. I recommend and refer to our health coach regularly because I see it work to help patients establish great health habits.
Health coaches differ from the traditional medical paradigm in which we doctors give information to the patient and expect them to implement that information. Coaches guide patients toward their health goals by focusing on behavioral changes. This involves setting goals, identifying obstacles that interfere with goals, and providing the support necessary to make changes. Coaching empowers patients to help write their own prescription for great health and holds patients accountable for implementing their plan.
My upcoming seminar is called "Keys to Great Health" and is free to the public. I review the basics of the key elements for great health. The first element is attitude. The hardest thing we, as physicians, do is to get patients to have great health habits. A great health plan starts with that "first step." Your first step might be coming to my seminar... Kaizen!
Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.