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New years and radical conversions

Can people change?

Some argue that change must be radical.   Want to lose weight?  Cut everything out.  No soda, no bread, no pasta, no alcohol.  Walk every morning for 30 minutes.    Stop smoking.  Stop watching TV.  Just stop.    It’s only your life at stake.

My father did this with smoking.  When he as 40, he gave it up.  He threw out all his cigarettes and just didn’t smoke again.

Others argue believe change happens gradually.  Just cut 100 calories a day.  Stop putting cream in your coffee and limit your helpings, but eat what you want.  Just have most of your French fries, but not all of them.  Don’t let yourself feel full.

Some call this the Kaizen approach.   Go slowly.  Don’t do anything too quickly.  Get used to the changes before your body says, “stop changing me!”

My friend Chris did this with drinking.  It took several times, but with the help of a 12 step group he stopped the sauce.   It wasn’t immediate, but a series of failures.   Likewise, It took me several years, but by now I don’t drink soda or candybars.   With paleo I stopped having milk in my coffee at once.  But I still have cheese occasionally.  I have pasta infrequently, now that I have substitutes.

One takes a high view of the will; the other a low view.    One asserts that the manipulating the will is easy.  The other tries to find the way to work around the will by making our decisions to change habitual, easy, instinctive.

In both cases, the Will is summoned like an inner spirit, a mercurial God who holds the key to a happier, disciplined life.  But it is not an easy imp to train.  It requires work.

Telling people to just stop their habits on a dime usually doesn’t accomplish its goal, without some associative games attributed to it.  It’s possible to eat less, if you practice immediately bagging your restaurant dish, and only serve on small plates and stick to single portions.

But the “will” then becomes not merely a single way of saying “no” but an attempt to change one’s entire environment.  An alcoholic does not merely say “no” to alcohol, but stops going to bars and avoids compromising situations, and hangs out with non-drinkers.  A paleo person clears out their pantry and learns to cook new foods.

In both cases, the will needs to be accommodated, tricked, managed, or else our desires react feverishly to have what they crave.  The will must say things like, “not today, but later” or “isn’t it great to be thin rather than fat?”

My rule will be like this:  I will say “no” to a few things where I can clearly change my environment.  I will make those radical changes.  But I will allow the journey on other tasks that require change.  That’s enough.

But the most important step is simply this: “I will discover who I am.”  It’s the work of journaling one’s consumption, activity and weight.  Monitoring is possibly a more important, the most important radical change one can make.  It is the way to make the incremental changes most successfully.  The most important change I made in May was that I write down every pound I lift.  I carry this book around like a bible.

Any discussion about how we are supposed to change must take into account the obstacles to making those changes.    As a muscle, the will must be given time to develop.  It cannot make all required changes at once.  This is a recipe for failure for most of us, save the hardiest, for those who know change is a matter of life and death.

But life and death are too abstract for many of us.   Take the radical step of taking the small step.  That may be enough for now.  Tomorrow is another day.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Great posts in this new year. Blessings!

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