While sitting in my smock and waiting (and waiting) for my doctor to return, I overheard the doctor saying – “Look Sylvia, if you eat more calories than you need you’ll gain weight – if you eat less, you lose weight. – IT’S THAT SIMPLE!” I couldn’t hear his patient’s response, but it was probably more distressed than joyful.
How often we hear the desire for leisure time – “Oh, I wish I had the time to play some tennis or golf”, and the concerned response is “So do it – if you really want to you’d find the time – you make everything so complicated.” Even in matters of “life or breath” as with the habitual cigarette smoker, the concerned public suggests that all one has to do is “simply” stop smoking.
Changing human behavior is typically not so simple, so easy or just a matter of “really wanting to.” In fact, each time we are confronted with the suggestion that changing our behavior “is so simple” and then we fail, the chances of successful change become even less. We are quite familiar with the feelings of self-doubt and embarrassment that result from our “failure” to achieve the “simple” goals of daily living.
The mistaken notion that we can readily change long standing habits by “simply” being told how easy it is to change is one of the myths about human behavior. In part, the myths come from our having learned that “you are the master of your own fate” and all change must come from within yourself. If you have been raised with the notion of “lifting yourself by your own bootstraps” and yet find yourself still on the ground, daily living can be quite depressing.
We need to become more appreciative of the complexity and uniqueness of each person’s behavior and the influences of the environment upon those behaviors. We must understand that most of our behavior, particularly habits of long standing are not maintained because we are “lazy”, “stupid” or “lacking desire” for change. Many habits, e.g. smoking, excessive eating and working, are continued because they bring pleasure and/or relief from discomfort despite the contentions of other persons. In addition, the social world we live in is often inconsistent in helping us change, e.g. the food store that has a sign requesting – “Please, do not smoke” – and just to the left of the sign is a fully stocked cigarette vending machine. The most caring family often belittles the fact that you are eating the bread, and yet ignores your having stopped late night snacks… Many of us find that the most appealing aspect of our lives, is the very habit we are told to change.
Although many persons in our lives are “good” intentioned when they suggest “IT’S SO SIMPLE”, that statement does not represent a realistic assessment of the hows and whys of human behavior. Telling someone to change and TEACHING them are not the same – TEACHING of behavior change requires more investment, and work – a commitment we must be willing to make.