In my last blog post, “Reframing Your Thoughts on Fitness Goals,” I wrote about changing the way we think about exercise. By shifting our thoughts to think of exercise as a privilege instead of a punishment, we give ourselves a little extra push to get out the door.
Seeing Richard, my client mentioned in that post, deteriorate from having a body that could do anything to a body that could barely hold a coffee cup steady, makes me appreciate what my body can do now and take care of it appropriately.
But even with stories like Richard’s and how he was just like you and me, until he wasn’t, there are a lot of people out there who STILL won’t make a change. Who, for whatever reason, have zero interest in eating healthy and exercising. Who, despite all the evidence in the world, won’t take one step in the “healthy” direction.
How do we get THEM to change?
Most of the time they will go through life, scoffing at gym goers while eating unhealthy foods and smoking. BUT there are those rare occasions that this isn’t the case. There are those extraordinary moments that these extremely stubborn bullheaded people do a 180 and change their life on a dime.
Who are these people?
I really only know of one person who did this: My Dad.
Dad was a quirky guy who made kids laugh and adults roll their eyes. He was always very active in my sister and my life and took pride in “his girls.” He took us to the park and on bike rides, split and stacked wood for the stove, worked on his feet all day long.
Sounds pretty healthy right?
Dad was a chimney. He smoked ALL the time — His clothes reeked of smoke! I specifically remember burying my face in his smoke filled shirt because I missed him while he was at work and it smelled like him. Never in my life did I see my Dad without a cigarette for more than a day. My Mother and Uncle begged him to stop and even offered him money to quit to no avail.
It doesn’t stop there.
Dad also LOVED beer. Cheap, college kid beer. You know the kind college kids buy because that’s all they can afford? THAT beer. He liked that he could drink a lot of it without have a big effect on him due to the ridiculously low alcohol content.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he LOVED ice cream. Ate it as much as possible.
50 years of smoking, drinking and eating crappy food.
He had no interest in changing. He wasn’t overweight, he could still do all of his yard work and truly enjoyed smoking and having a bee-ah (beer, for all those not familiar with a thick Boston accent).
No reason to change…until September 29, 2016. That was the day that his habits finally caught up to him.
Dad had a heart attack on that fall day and is lucky to be alive.
He didn’t have a traditional heart attack with crushing chest pain — all of a sudden he felt terrible and started sweating profusely. Thankfully, he knew something was really wrong, took some aspirin and called the fire department.
I visited him in the cardiac ICU two days after they put a stent in one of his arteries. Typical Dad, he was joking and in good spirits, giving the nurses a hard time.
I quickly did the math and realized he was going on 48 hours without nicotine. My thoughts turned to withdrawal symptoms.
I asked him if he was okay.
“I’m great! The heart doctor came into my room and told me that if I listened to him, I could live for 10, 15, or even 20 more years, Annie! He said I could even see my grand kids get married!”
When asked what he needed to do to make that happen, he replied:
“Complete cardiac rehab and no more alcohol and cigarettes.”
My mouth fell to the ground.
“So you aren’t going to smoke, drink beer, AND you are going to exercise?
“Well, I guess so!”
That conversation was 18 months ago…and he hasn’t smoked one single cigarette.
He is allowed 4 drinks a week…and usually has less than that.
He exercises most days of the week…and all of this doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
So what happened?
What happened to the cigarette smoking, beer drinking Dad I had always known? He was gone. Replaced with a man I didn’t recognise. A man who exercised almost every day, went outside to just sit — instead of smoking — and drank seltzer water.
A brush with death had completely changed his opinion on his lifestyle. Faced with his own demise, he thought of why he wanted to live and used that as his ultimate motivation.
Was it easy to stop those lifelong habits? Absolutely not. But he knew that if he wanted to be around for his grandkids, he needed to follow the cardiologist’s instructions.
How can we take my father’s unfortunate medical crisis and apply the lessons he learned to our lives?
We often look at our lifestyle as unchangeable and feel trapped in our own skin, by our own patterns. Our habits, good and bad, are so ingrained in who we are that they seem impossible to change. But you and I both know there are things we should — and need to — change so we don’t end up like my Dad.
What motivation do you have to change them?
None of us want to get to the point of being on death’s doorstep to figure out the one reason we want to live. What if we just imagined that we had a brush with death? We put ourselves in the cardiac ICU or the oncology floor? Beeping monitors all around, sipping apple juice from a straw, being woken up throughout the night to check your vitals and make sure you are ok…or even alive…Sound like fun?
What or who would YOU think of to motivate yourself to do the hard things the doctor was telling you to do?
Why do YOU want to be here in 20 years?
Is it to see your grandchildren born, to travel the country in an RV with your spouse, perhaps to get married yourself? Whatever it is, let it be a motivation for changing your habits.
Please don’t be like my Dad and wait until a major life threatening event happens forcing you to make a change. Find some pictures that represent your motivation and plaster them around your house. Look at those when you are reaching for the ice cream for the fifth night in a row or sitting on the couch instead of taking a walk.
I know, everything is easier said than done.
But honestly, it’s a lot easier to use that motivation now instead of ending up in the hospital where you are forced to make a decision between life and death.