This is a summary of what we covered in the last class on changing habits. I was impressed by how engaged people were and how many ideas they shared. (I apologize for the delay in posting.)
Everyone caught on to the concepts well. We could all see how the various types of stress, i.e. pressure from demands, distress from negative emotions, and strain from sympathetic activation could all make it difficult to change a habit. With this framework people came up with ideas for reducing these different components in order to make developing a healthy habit easier and more successful.
One of the more subtle and more important points that I want to emphasize here is how the feedback between distress from negative emotions and sympathetic activation can be a major source of difficulty.
A short note to communicate why I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks.
I have been developing materials for the International Performance, Resilience and Efficiency Program , iPREP. They use scientifically based training methods to train law enforcement officers and first-responders to make more effective decisions under extreme stress. They are an awesome team and I am excited to be working with them.
I have also been working on an iOS app which just got approved by Apple. The app is HRV Trace and it uses data from a chest-strap heart rate monitor to augment stress-management and resilience training. HRV Trace is being used by the iPREP team as a part of their training program.
We had a lot of discussion in class. Many people talked about how much difficulty they had making a habit of exercising or of avoiding certain eating habits. We came up with some points to help with these.
Some principles involved in changing a habit are:
The habit reduces discontent and that is what reinforces the behavior. The greater the reduction in discontent and the faster the reduction the greater the reinforcement.
Negative emotions increase discontent and so we need to find ways of dealing with them that do not involve the habit we want to change.
Pressure tends to increase discontent, so if the habit causes an increase in pressure then the discontent will come back quickly. We need to make sure that we find new habits that decrease pressure in the long run.
Sympathetic arousal also tends to increase discontent. So when we are feeling tense, stressed or in pain we may be more likely to engage in the habit. We need to work on healthier ways to deal with those.
We need to practice experiencing discontent without having our body respond with tension or strain. We develop discontent tolerance.
Many of us have habits we think we would be better without. Usually we have tried to change those, but too often without long term success. In this and the next two classes we will be looking at habits, the ways that habits develop, and methods and techniques for changing habits effectively and sustainably.
While this story from the CS Monitor is not directly related to health, it has huge implications for public health. And the fact that there are really smart people, working really hard at being helpful gives me a lot of hope.
I am taking a risk here and using a summary of a report rather than digging into the report itself. However, the summary is pretty damning and explains why medical care costs so much. (If I find that the article has misrepresented the death rates between drug group and placebo then I will post a correction.)
I often work with people who have been seriously harmed by someone else. They often struggle with the idea of forgiveness. They have a sense that forgiving the other person is something they should do, but they have concerns that doing so will leave them vulnerable or discount the harm they have suffered. This is especially true when they have left a violent relationship. The issue gets very muddled.
The following metaphor has helped clarify the idea of forgiveness for many of the people I have worked with.
In an earlier post I discussed contemplation contrasted with rumination. One of the unhelpful processes that creates rumination I called “judging” and suggested that many times we are able to act more effectively if we use describing instead of judging.
When I present this to people I find that some wonder how they can decide what to do if they are not judging, if they don’t label things as right and wrong.
This was the favorite meditation of the students in the class I led for 10 years. I made a audio track of it for people I know who are working to help those who are suffering as it can provide a lot of spiritual support. The track is short so you can use it easily during the day. If you loop the track make sure to take some big breaths and stretch when you finish listening to get fully alert. Also do not use it while operating machinery.