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Fall—Time to Change Your Leaves?

Fall is one of my favorite times of year—the temp starts dropping, the air gets crisp, the trees put on a glorious display of color—I love it! I also think it’s a great time to drop what’s not working for you. If trees can let go of every leaf, why can’t we let go of what no longer serves us? Here are some possibilities: excess weight, too much clutter, bad relationships, bad habits, bad debt. Just how long are you planning on carrying those dead leaves around? And you know that you can’t grow any new leaves with those dead leaves blocking all the sunshine.

I know what I’m asking you to do is hard. I’m asking you to change what could be lifelong patterns of behavior. I know it is not easy. But here’s the deal—continue on your current path and your situation will only get worse. The latest statistics on obesity are shocking—in less than 8 years, 75% of Americans will be overweight and 41% will be obese! We are turning into a nation of fat people. Why? Because of our habits—we eat too much, we exercise too little. Think you’re heavy now? Guess what, unless you change those leaves, you’re going to be a whole lot heavier in eight years.

I just put together a seminar called “Kicking Your Own Buts” on how to change this type of behavior. I studied different methods of change and researched changing the most difficult behaviors—addictions– to see if there were lessons for the rest of us. There were:

1.) Know thyself. Truer words were never spoken. You know what is going to work for you and what isn’t. If you’ve been a night owl for 40 years and hate exercise, getting up at dawn and running is not going to work for you. Craft a plan you can live with. Forever.

2.) Oh yeah, baby—we’re talking forever. The deal is not the change itself—most alcoholics are great at quitting. It’s the staying sober part that’s hard. Dieters can lose weight—they’re good at that—it’s keeping it off that’s hard. If you can’t do it forever, it’s no good.

3.) You have got to want to change for you. I watched many, many episodes of A & E’s series Intervention and only those who really want to get better have a chance. Most bail out as soon as their family is out of sight. Change is hard as hell—if you don’t really want to do it for yourself, don’t bother trying.

4.) Try Kaizen. Kaizen says take tiny steps. I did this with my backlog of e-mail. I have serious perfectionist issues—if I can’t do it all and do it right, I’ll put it off. (See #1) My inbox was getting to be a nightmare. E-mail needed to be deleted or filed or dealt with. Then I tried Kaizen—I would just aim to have 10 less in the inbox at the end of each day. Then I went to 25 less, etc. I got through the backlog and now have a cap (no more than 50) that can be allowed in my inbox at the end of the day. You can do this with anything—walk in place for 5 minutes while watching your favorite TV show. Build up gradually. Leave one bite of food on your plate. Kaizen is all about taking small steps to change. You’ve been practicing your bad habits for a lifetime—stop expecting to change them overnight!

5.) Get smart. Dean Ornish observed that even when told if they did not change they would DIE, heart patients did not change their eating and exercise habits. He discovered that doctors were just telling patients to exercise and lose weight, not telling them how to do it. You have to learn about whatever change you are trying to make. Many of us eat without really paying attention. I noticed my jeans feeling a little snug and realized the scale was moving toward my—OHMYGOD weight. So I started writing down everything I was eating. Everything. A cookie here, a piece of candy there, a roll at lunch—it adds up faster than you realize. Start writing. All I want you to worry about is calories. Do you even know how many you need JUST TO MAINTAIN your current weight? Find out ASAP if not—go to mayoclinic.com and look under health tools for their calorie calculator. Don’t lie about how active you are. The number you get (maybe around 2,000) is all you should eat if you don’t want to gain any weight. I’m not talking about losing—I’m talking about staying where you are today. Guess how many calories are in one slice of P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of Chocolate cake? One piece = 2,000 calories. Wake up! Look at serving sizes. You may think a bowl of your favorite cereal has only 70 calories. But that’s for 1/3 cup and you’ve been pouring a bowl of two cups (420 calories). Knowledge is power. Ignorance is not bliss. In this case, ignorance is obesity. Apply the knowledge plan to any change you want to make. What you know now is clearly not enough.

6.) Ask for help. We Americans are tough and we believe we have to go it alone. AA and other programs work for people because they give them a support group. Ornish found in his work with patients that if they had others to offer them support, their efforts at change were much more successful. This could be a mentor, a therapist, a family member, a friend or a teacher. There are also thousands of groups on the Internet—just search and see. Having other people trying to make the same change as you are supporting and encouraging you can be a huge help. The key here is fit—it has to be a person or a group you are comfortable with and you trust and respect. Change is hard, but it’s much easier if you have some support along the way.

A tree is not its leaves any more than you are your habits. Have the courage to let go of what’s not working. Nothing says fall like the smell of burning leaves.

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