I work with people every day who can’t seem to get out of their own way. Even with the knowledge of what they should be doing, even with motivation to avoid disease, some people just can’t get off the dime. This post is an effort to explore some of the barriers to change. What keeps you from being your healthiest self?
Barriers to improving our health (or changing our behavior) seem to fall into one or both general categories:
The logistical barriers can be further categorized into:
Time (although time is largely a perceptual and prioritization issue), and Access (although there are work-arounds for most access barriers). So really, even if you have tangible, logistical barriers keeping you from improving your health, they can be addressed with some clever thinking and positive intentions.
So let me be your Coach for a moment, and let’s focus on the mental barriers that may be keeping you from having the vibrant, healthy life you know you’re capable of.
- Naïveté barrier. You don’t know any other way to be; being healthy wasn’t modeled for you. Many people grow up thinking they were eating healthily, but actually weren’t. Too much bread and pasta, sweetened “health foods” like yogurt and granola, not enough vegetables (raw and cooked). This barrier can be exacerbated by the abundance of conflicting information on the internet, as well as the evolution of science that has shifted our understanding of what is healthful/harmful over the past decades. To address “not knowing,” find and follow some recognized experts, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, whose books include Food: What the heck should I eat? And the companion cookbook, Food: What the heck should I cook?
- Fear of change barriers. This is a big one. We are afraid of so many things when embarking on a change effort, including:
- Fear of failing (Can I do it?)
- Fear of the unknown, habits (I don’t know what to do, don’t know where to start)
- Fear of the unknown, identify (Who would I be if I didn’t love artisanal bread?)
- Fear of missing out on your favorite things (I would feel so deprived)
- Fear of being different, not belonging to your family or social group (What would I eat at gatherings?)
- Fear of the challenge of change (I couldn’t do it alone, it’s going to be hard)
The antidote to all of these fears is just recognizing that they are thoughts, which, by definition, can change. Even if they are fueled by a belief system that runs pretty deep in you, you still have the sovereign power to choose your thoughts. This is where you start to get healthier; by allowing in the possibility that you can. By focusing your attention on possibility and the desired outcome, you will make space for new thoughts and behaviors that can get you there.
- Motivation barrier. The status quo is working well enough, and you can put up with the inconvenience of not feeling great or the threat of future disease because the effort required to learn new things and develop new habits doesn’t seem worth the effort. The answer to this barrier is usually solved with a combination of the above solutions: learn more and find a buddy/community for mutual support as you grow.
- Chemical or biological barriers. Chemical or hormonal barriers are brain imbalances that make us prone to certain behaviors. Biological barriers are genetic dispositions that predispose us to addictive behaviors. Dialing into which or whether this is applicable to you will take a qualified medical person to run some tests, which can be costly. You can hedge your bets by taking a good quality multi-vitamin and/or a multi-amino acid complex, and quitting sugar and flour, which cause inflammation in the gut and disrupts communications along the gut-brain axis, among other things. These imbalances can impact drive and motivation, resulting in feelings of lethargy. Lethargy and lack of motivation can also be caused by certain neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s Disease (PD related to the brain chemical dopamine, which is central to the brain’s system of motivation, reward and pleasure).
There is yet another barrier, one that often lurks below the surface of all these other barriers, what I will call “core wounds.” Core wounds usually come from childhood or teen experiences. They may or may not be overtly traumatic, but the result is that we internalized a thought or feeling about ourselves that fundamentally influences our behavior. I’ll explore the concept of core wounds, including some thoughts on how to identify and heal them, in a future post.