Changing our habits to improve our health can be quite a challenge.

For over ten years I ran holistic health sessions for third year medical students at Brighton University. There were generally groups of 10-12 students and over the eight sessions we did a variety of activities and had lots of discussion. In one of the three hour sessions we focussed on aspects of public health and health education. Towards the end of the session I would invite them to think of one thing they could do over the next week to improve their own health.

A Plan

There was no shortage of suggestions from eating healthier, taking more exercise, and making more time for themselves. I encouraged them to choose one thing and make it achievable within their other commitments. Some of their goals were like going to bed early every night, or going for a run 3-4 times a week, cooking their own meals, to playing their musical instrument again. All seemed to me as too ambitious, so I suggested they just choose to do it once in the week to start with.

At the end of the session I wrote down each of their plans and included one myself. I also suggested they tell someone that they were making this commitment. The following week we checked out who had implemented a change from the previous week. In most of the groups that I facilitated it was usually less than 50% that reached their goal. And this was in a young, well motivated, intelligent, informed group.

Excuses

Some of their excuses were that it was raining when they were going for a run, or they were too busy with their studies or just forgot. Others were encouraged to continue their self care plans.

I think it was a good lesson for them in how they look after their own health. Also for them to learn how difficult it is to change behaviour and hopefully gave them an insight, as future doctors, to understand their patients better.

One Step at a Time

So if you wish to make a change, choose one thing that is easily achievable and build on that. Consider things that may prevent you from achieving your goal, think of a reward, and tell someone who can support you with your plan. If you fail don’t give up, but encourage yourself as you would a child learning a new skill.

 

Craig Brown

 

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