Pace yourself

I will always commend someone who wants to make healthier changes in their life. If you are one of those people, you are amazing! Well done for recognising the need to change, and taking steps to make that change a reality.

But a word of caution: Patience.

When coming to the realisation of wanting to be healthier, many of us think about all the things we want to change. You want to exercise more, eat healthier, quit smoking, drink less, seek out therapy, go outside more, etc.. And while that is all admirable, that is also a lot to change about yourself.

A former professor of mine was teaching us one day about health promotion, when she recounted a story about a friend of hers. This friend was going to seek out some mental health support, staying in a hospital as some kind of resident. The friend had recognised they needed help, and part of that was seeking intensive therapy. But at the same time they wanted to quit smoking. What do you think my professor told this friend?

Now for 99% of cases, the first step to supporting someone to become a healthier person would be to help them quit smoking. There are no positive outcomes of the behaviour for your health. But my professor turned to their friend and advised them not to quit smoking.

A Health Psychologist told their friend to continue smoking. What?!

I remember feeling a little confused when she told me this, but she continued to explain. Quitting smoking in particular is a very stressful process, and while in an ideal world her friend would not be smoking at all, doing so now would be extremely hard on the friend. In fact, quitting smoking at that point in time might have compromised their mental health even further.

Having an all or nothing approach to health behaviour change is neither helpful nor sustainable. It is too much to handle for one person, especially if not having constant support throughout. In my opinion, and the opinion of other psychologists and health professionals, it is better to make slow, small, and steady changes.

In doing so, you are more likely to make healthier behaviours more permanent. It is ok to take your time with these things, and to not hold yourself to too high of a standard. So take your time, and reach out for help when you need it.

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