One of my favourite quotes is “the journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.” It is so true for so many things in life, especially when it comes to changing one’s behaviour. Changing behaviours can be really tough, but once we understand that changing behaviours or old habits is a process we can begin the journey.
Humans are creatures of habit. Some habits are good like brushing your teeth or wearing a seat belt, while others like binge drinking, eating bad foods and smoking are bad. It is these bad habits that are making us fat, sick and tired. Left long enough these bad habits can spiral out of control leading to illness and disease.
Habits are tough to break. A client of mine Gareth was a pack a day smoker and when we started working together there was no way in hell that he would consider quitting. When I initially meet with him he ticked the box “Do you or have you ever smoked in the past?” “Yes still do a pack a day.” I asked him about it and he replied “I have tried to quit but old habits die hard.” At this point in time he had no interest in quitting smoking, work was incredibly stressful and he found going out and having a cigarette a way of taking some time out.
Gareth was in what is known as Pre contemplation stage. Which at the time is totally fine, I could have shown him all the stats and data about smoking and the risks of lung or throat cancer and the associated health risks. But at the time he it was his mechanism for dealing with stress so he didn’t really care about all that.
Smokers are a resilient bunch, on every packet of cigarettes there are images and warnings about the health consequences of smoking, yet many of them are in the same situation as Gareth. After a short time working with Gareth we had made some really big changes to his diet and exercise regimes and he was starting to see the benefits of the work we had been doing. It was at this point where he had mention to me that he was considering trying to quit once more.
Gareth had recently started to enjoy cycling and running, but he found that it was becoming increasingly harder to see improvements. We talked more about cardiovascular system and how the body uses oxygen as a fuel source during these activities. To which it became clear to him that if he was going to improve he needed to take the next step. Gareth was now contemplating quitting.
Weighing up the pro and cons he was now ready to make the changes. Cigarettes are extremely addictive and knowing this we decided not to go cold turkey, because this was the method Gareth had unsuccessfully tried previously. We decided to slowly reduce the amount of cigarettes Gareth would smoke per day over the space of one month. This was his preparation phase.
By the end of that month Gareth was down from 30 to 4 a day, he felt so much better and had made significant improvement with his cycling and also his running. But now it was time for the next phase the action phase. Cutting down the number of cigarettes was fantastic but it was now time to kick the habit totally. We initially set a no cigarette goal of 3 months. It was tough but to his credit all was going extremely well, most of his mates supported his decision to quit smoking even at Friday night drinks after work.
Shortly after reaching our three month goal Gareth showed up to one of our sessions looking a little depressed, at first he tried to play it cool and pretend nothing was wrong. He eventually told me that he had a little relapse. He dropped a few f-bombs and it was clear that he was upset by his little stuff up. We talked a bit about what was going on and discovered that he been a bit stressed out at work and in need of a little time out he went outside and had a few cigarettes.
Relapse of an old habit is not uncommon, sometimes it can be a great way to regain the motivation that made the initial change but sometimes all of the hard work goes by the wayside. Luckily for Gareth he realised his relapse while having the potential to undo all the hard work, reignited his motivation by remembering how terrible he felt the next morning.
Changing behaviours can be a bit like playing Snakes and Ladders, as you move forward on your journey, you always run the risk of crossing paths with a snake that sends you back a few steps. From which point you can either throw in the towel or you can and should persist, use the set back as motivation and move forward stronger and better prepared.