Woo-wee. I have been in practice for over 10 years now and I have learned A LOT in that time! In 2004, I was fresh out of medical school, optimistic and somewhat naive about what “practicing medicine” would look like.
I am grateful for the patience of my patients (haha) and the many lessons I have learned from them about how to be an effective doctor.
But when I first started, I made some mistakes and despite everything I knew, it didn’t matter when it came down to getting lasting results for my patients.
I’ll share with you my mistakes AND how you can learn from them to help you get the energy, health and vitality you want—for good.
Flashback to 2004……
At the end of our initial 2 hour visit, I would give my (often emotionally spent) patient a list of recommendations to start to improve their health and reversing their illness. It often include things like
- Eliminate sodas, ice cream and white bread
- Drink more water
- Eat 9-13 servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- Start exercising three times a week for 30 minutes
- Take this new supplement, this herbal tea, and this homeopathic remedy
- Go to bed 1 hour earlier
- Meditate 10 minutes a day every day
- Come back in one month
This is all fantastic advice-right? Who won’t get healthier and feel better if they did all these things? Aren’t I smart doctor for figuring this stuff out? 😉
Wrong. I was leaving out a HUGE tool to help my patients get better. And it had nothing to do with what I KNEW.
And I was not the only one leaving a gaping hole in our treatment plans . I see many well intended and knowledgeable ND’s, DO’s, and MD’s make these same mistakes. Do you know what it was?
I thought I could just tell people what to do and they would know how to go and do it!
Go from “addicted to sodas” to “none” in month? Done!
Go from “ZERO exercise”” to three times a week”? EASY!
Go from “staying up till midnight watching TV” to “getting in bed at 10pm”? Boom! That’s it!!
If it were just that easy to know what to do, why isn’t every one doing it? I bet if you asked 100 people “how do you lose weight?”, they would ALL know what to do in a general sort of way. BUT how many of us are actually DOING those things?
I am not blaming my patients, I am blaming myself here. It wasn’t in the specific advice or “knowledge” I was giving, but in HOW I was giving it.
How to make changes
At that time, I had not studied the psychology of habit change–in other words, how to help someone effectively change a “bad” habit for the long haul. And yes, there is a real field of study and science devoted to figuring out how to work with your brain to make change easy.
I don’t believe I have done a patient any good if they follow a diet for 2 or 3 months and feel better-digestion better, energy better, aches and pains GONE!, but then lapse back into their old habits.
Without learning how to break destructive habits and build new healthier habits, any gains in vitality, energy and health are temporary.
I am all about LASTING, PERMANENT CHANGE that improves your health.
This is why, for all the book knowledge, years of schooling, licencing exams and continuing education, sometimes what your doctor knows doesn’t matter if they can’t help you figure out HOW to apply that knowledge.
So, back to my list of patient recommendations at the beginning of this post. What were my mistakes? What could I have done better to help my patients become successful –not just for a month or two, but for years and years?
Here are 3 KEYS I have learned that help my patients get consistent, lasting results and improvements in their health. They are based in the science of habit-change and can help YOU get the health and energy you want.
3 Keys to Lasting Lifestyle Change
1. Pick ONE habit to change at a time. Remember my list of recommendations at the top of the page? There are 8 habits listed. WHOA!!!! That’s waaaaay too much! Studies show that the more changes we make at once, the less likely we are to follow through with any one of them in the long term.
So, if you want to make a lifestyle change that lasts, pick one thing at at time to work on. Practice it again and again until it is ingrained and automatic.
If you try to do too much at once, you might be able to keep up for a little while, but eventually your brain will blow a fuse (very technical) and you will go back to your old habits.
I know I’ve done this many times as a participant in cleanses, detoxes and other ‘health” challenges where you dump your life up-side down and focus on your health and nothing else!
Guess what? The effort of maintaining those drastic changes was so draining, that when the “challenge” was over, I would immediately start “slipping” and go back to the same old habits that made me feel crummy in the first place.
2. Start small. By the time many of my patients come to see me, they are really suffering and want to feel better NOW. They want to do everything possible all at once (see number 1 above). The best way to get their energy and health back though, is often times doing less and starting small. Many of my patients are already juggling careers, kids, businesses, cleaning, cooking, finances, exercising and more. Then here I was, giving them a list of drastic, big changes to every aspect of their life! The LAST thing they need is another “to-do” list.
After you pick your ONE habit to change, find a small piece to start practicing. In other words, if you want to start going for a walk every day (and you currently don’t do any walking), start with a commitment to walk twice a week for 10 minutes. You can certainly go longer if you want, BUT to set yourself up for success in the long term, starting slow and low allows you to feel successful without being overwhelmed. Once this becomes an easy habit, you can add another day in.
The alternative is to say “I”m going to walk every day!” but the first or second time you miss a day, you throw the towel in and feel like a failure. Set yourself up so you CANT fail. Start small.
3. Get someone to check in with-frequently and regularly. When attempting to change lifestyle habits, having a consistent supportive person to hold you accountable and coach you through rough moments is absolutely essential. One of my big mistakes early on was to allow too many weeks to pass between our visits. A month is a long to go “on your own” when you are trying to change your lifestyle. And if you are struggling, the longer you go without help, the harder it is to get back on track.
People who are successful-whether it’s in sports, business, habit-change or weight-loss, have mentors and coaching to guide them, keep them focused on their goals and generally help them every step of the way. A good doctor will offer these things to their patients so that they can be successful.
That’s it! These three keys have totally changed the way I practice medicine AND helped my patients get the lasting, improved health and energy that they want. I don’t think my patients successes are necessarily because I have so much more natural medicine knowledge now than I did ten years ago, but because I have really learned how to help my patients apply this to their lives.
Do you have a lifestyle habit that you want to change? Drop me a comment below and tell me what ONE, SMALL change you are working on and how you will keep accountable! I would love to hear from you.
All the best, always,