Behavior change is nothing less than radical. Today marks my last day of salaried work as a physician. At least, for now. It was an all-around tough year. Combine it with mid-career introspection and it was the recipe for change. Would you take a step out of a job if you did not know where you would land? I did just that. I admit that I don’t have a long-term plan for now.
I am going to make the journey one step at a time. I will save the rest to explore the options of my writing business. I call it a business for now, even though it doesn’t earn me any income.
A few years ago, I started writing and writing and writing. I rekindled my childhood passion.
As a child, I imagined becoming a writer. I remember finishing a short story for fifth grade class. I never imagined that we would have to write a story in grade school. But with the teacher’s guidance, the end-product was a short story. The excitement of writing an adventure story was tucked away into my memories. I also enjoyed reading books – particularly fantasy and science fiction. I imagined being an author and making worlds with words.
It is interesting that travels have always been fuel for my imagination. Another type of journey was in my brain as I read books that would stimulate the same sense of wonder. The physical act of traveling allows one to be suddenly plucked out of their comfort zone and forces them to think in the moment. It is a radical change.
When someone is in their early adult years and is asked to pick a career, the choice can seem so permanent. For me, as a college student, picking a career path meant I had to let go of my other interests to focus on one of them. Fortunately, as I found later on as a physician, many of my interests intersected in the field of medicine. It just didn’t have a paved road to get to; I had to make the trail.
My goals are to set aside time to learn, discover, read, write, and collaborate on understanding optimal health and empowering others to make a “leap of faith” to behavior change. It often invites a person to revisit their traumas and to acknowledge and set free the behavior cycle that was an adaptation. Behavior change is a radical departure from the past conserved cycles.
Over the twenty years of my career, I realized the hard facts of providing health care. There are four of them mainly:
- Disease is a manifestation of layers of changes in the body beginning in the brain as it adapted to handling stress and trauma.
- Medications treat the most superficial aspect of a disease, while the condition persists with the ongoing behavior.
- Every person develops a blind-spot that overlooks how behavior contributes to choices that drive their decisions, and ultimately, their health.
- The road to health begins with encountering the brain cycle that holds one captive to disease. A doctor, coach, therapist, and support community can assist, but the steps ultimately have to be taken by the person themselves.
Our brains optimally work in a conservative manner- managing things using predictions. Our five senses pull from a repertoire of past experiences to predict a current one. In many ways, particularly referring to chronic disease, we effectively become the process. What I am referring to as “disease” is merely the process of dysfunction that develops when a behavior leads to inflammation and changes the body. The body has an inherent ability to resolve stress (as cells comprise a system) through inflammation and healing. The brain runs the whole process.
I speak of “radical change” in my seminars and writing. Behavior change is nothing less than a radical change.
If you could imagine, as we get older, humans tend to become more predictable in their cycles. Its common to see children shift erratically from quiet to excited. As we get older, the brain works in a more concerted way, after many years of behavioral responses setting the blueprints for future responses. This is how the brain manages stress- by interpreting the environment and preparing a predictable response to a real or perceived stressor.
It is not impossible to point to a disease and predict the behavior and the state of the mind the led to it. In that way, understanding a disease as an outputs to certain inputs removes any qualitative interpretations (blame, shame, and guilt) and the stigma that can sabotage behavior change.
When a change occurs – an example of this could be quitting sugary foods – it leads to a discomfort as pathways are set up to repeat the behavior. The cycle of behaviors lead to neurotransmitter changes, namely in dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is associated with movement of the body toward a pleasurable stimulus, such as food, sex, and drugs.
A more egregious behavior leads to excessive dopamine and serotonin release in neural synapses in the rewards centers of the brain. There is relative deficiency that follows in separating a person from the stimulus, which results in boredom, apathy, disinterest, and unhappiness.
The other side of the fence that we build in our behaviors is uncertainty. Our bodies wrestle with uncertainty and stress by activating the fight-and-flight response. This is in essence an instinctual process which protects us though can also keep us in behavioral cycles.
To walk outside of the path of the comfort zone, blazing a new path is why behavior change is radical. There is uncertainty. There is fear. Wait a little longer and the excitement follows. All behaviors in life feel at first uncomfortable to change. But taking the opportunity to understand and effectively improve a behavior is the source of wisdom and the source of health.
Exercises for the Reader
What are some behaviors that you would like to modify to the benefit of your health? How can you begin to explore the source of these behaviors to “crack the code” that holds you back from optimal health?
- List some health goals on a page. Writing down more specific, attainable goals makes them more achievable.
- Write some of the barriers that you have learned about yourself that can inhibit you from achieving these goals
- Write ways in which you can relieve the stress response. Think of exercise, walking, mediation, art has ways to open up the blockades that are preventing you from achieving your goals.
For a YHF post on the steps of behavior change, click here.