Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In three weeks

They say, "Eat less and exercise more; the weight will practically fall off." They also say, "getting started is the hardest part." Of course, garrulous as They are, They make sure to point out you shouldn't have waited so long before taking care of yourself. Whoever "They" are, They sure have a lot to say about how to run your life, don't They?

They also tell you that if you keep a new habit in place for only three weeks, it will be adapted into your life. I'm not sure I agree. I've been dieting since before they invited sugar-free cola and non-fat yogurt - considerably more than three weeks - and I still find healthy eating a challenge, especially when stressed with organizing my taxes, calling the plumber to fix a plugged toilet, and trying to find a few seconds for my family. In those moments, a double-bacon, cheesy, chiliburger and gargantuan order of fries still shout pretty loud.

Yet, if you have ever tried to adjust habits, you have faced the dreaded (insert ominous music here...) "Three Week Barrier."

In Week One, all is new and exciting. You are inspired (or at least willing) to do what it takes; after all, you've stopped putting it off, might as well get on with the task at hand. Once the decision has finally been made, activity begins; changes occur; motivation results. By Week Two - if you look for it - you see a few fledgling results. Even though the path ahead appears long, these early outcomes keep you plodding onward.

At Week Three, most people start facing as many setbacks as successes. As Life is wont to do, it throws some curves, and dealing with these stresses generates the urge for comfort, in effect the desire to revert to old habits. Confronted with instantaneous chocolate gratification or what appears a tortuous, arduous, uphill life-long slog, most opt to "try again later, when things finally settle down." (Not wishing to be morbid, but I must point out the only time things "finally settle down," your weight won't matter to anyone but the six friends carrying you to your final resting place.)

If it is accurate that every person faces frustrations, why do some persevere while others fall victim to the lure of the old ways?

I'm glad you asked. While some focus on external results, craving to "get there quickly" so we can "stop thinking about this all the time," others direct their attention to their feelings when confronted with these inevitable setbacks. They remind themselves of the successes so far, meager as they might seem. Although frustrated, they slow down long enough to learn from the feedback, and work on adjusting their attitude - even if only for an instant. Without ongoing fine-tuning, we are condemned to repeat old patterns.

That's what They say. And - in this instance - They are correct.

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