Long-term changes start with values, not necessarily goals

"Is this decision in line with the direction I want to be going?"

Here we are in peak “goal-making season”. How many of us have already written down Goals for 2019? The problem with these lists is that they don’t tap into our deepest and long lasting source of internal motivation. They’re too superficial. The secret to real behaviour change — from eating better to getting to your best weight — is a totally different approach.

“Being aware of one’s values can help foster a willingness to choose worthwhile health behaviours even if they are associated with short-term discomfort, such as not giving into a craving or exercising even when tired,” says Christine Melanson, a registered dietitian with Weight Management at Medcan. “Values provide a strong reason to work hard over the long run.”

This value-based approach requires you to answer “Why am I doing all of this? Why do you want to cut back on potato chips, exercise three times a week or drink fewer glasses of wine?”

“You’d be amazed at how many people haven’t answered the question ‘Why do you want to be healthy?’ ” says Dr. David Macklin, Director of Weight Management at Medcan and at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital High Risk/Special Pregnancy Body Mass Index unit. He’s also a science committee member of the Canadian Obesity Network.

Keep asking yourself the question until you get to the crux of your value system, like this:

Why do you want to work out three times a week?

Because I want to be healthy.

Why do you want to be healthy?

So I can be a healthy father and grandfather.

Why do you want to be a healthy father and grandfather?

So I can play sports and travel with my family, and make memories for many more years.

“So all of a sudden, in this example, we are talking about a clear direction, rather than a vague goal. This direction is permanent and immutable,” says Dr. Macklin. “With this approach you can tune in every day and ask yourself, ‘Was my behaviour aligned with the direction I want to go with my life?’ If the answer is no, then make changes or get the support you need in a non-critical way. If the answer is yes, then celebrate that and keep it up.”

The cookie example: Acting in line with your values

Dr. Macklin likes to use this cookie example to show how our values can influence our behaviour:

Let’s say it’s your birthday and I give you the choice of two cookies.

One is baked at a specialty, luxury, organic chocolate bakery and it’s served to you fresh out of the oven.

The other one is three days old, has your least favourite cookie ingredient — raisins — and it’s burned.

Which one would you like?

Oh, one more additional detail: the second cookie was made very carefully by your child for your birthday.

Chances are you would choose your child’s cookie, right?

“Here is an example of someone being WILLING to forgo an immediate gratification experience with ease because the decision is aligned with a fundamental value, something very important to them,” says Dr. Macklin. “So if you can start to find the underlying purpose as to why you want to make this change, what may otherwise be tough decisions become easier, less controlled by a drive to immediate-gratification and more driven by purpose.”

Pause before making that healthy choice or unhealthy decision

Melanson encourages her clients to pause before acting on impulsive food choices and on thoughts of sedentary behavior (when physical activity was planned) and ask themselves, “Is this decision aligned with my values? Of course, I can eat this, drink this or forgo this activity, but … is this decision in line with the direction I want to be going, towards the things that are most important to me?”

It’s amazing how powerful pausing and asking these questions can be in helping with long-term behaviour change.

To learn more about Weight Management at Medcan, you can arrange an introductory consultation by contacting Kelly Cloutier, Program Coordinator, at kellycloutier@medcan.com or call 416.350.5918. 

If you book your Annual Health Assessment between January 9 and January 31, you will be entered for a chance to win your choice of one of the following add-ons: 10 personal training sessions; Liver Health Assessment; or Genetics and Genetic Counselling. 

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