Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making changes until they feel normal / The Seat Belt Analogy

The other day I was driving home from taking the children to school. I pulled into my driveway, unbuckled my seat belt, and was about to get out of the car. I saw that I'd forgotten to put a letter in the mailbox a few hundred yards back. I started the car again and drove back down toward the mailbox. As I headed down the hill (seeing wild turkeys running out of my way - - always a fun sight), I realized that I felt a little more free than usual, but not necessarily comfortably, like I was walking with my shoes untied. I'd forgotten to buckle my seat belt. I decided just to stay that way since I was just going down a private road. Nothing illegal about it, no cars around to run into. (I'm sure I could have run off into the ditch or hit a turkey, but I wasn't too worried). But it felt weird to not have my seat belt on. I could feel every bump in the road. I just wasn't feeling as secure as I usually do. I was used to being strapped in and now that I wasn't, it felt strange and uncomfortable. I kept evaluating this uncomfortable feeling because it wasn't always that way.

I thought back 20+ years ago when I was in college and the seatbelt laws went into effect in California. I was going to school in Utah, but would go home during the breaks to California and was aware of the seatbelt law. Not too many people wore seatbelts regularly back then. I'm not sure what my guideline was, but I know I didn't wear them all the time. It wasn't hard for me to remember to buckle up when I was in California, but I remember when I was back in Utah, that I'd feel kind of strange once I did buckle it into place. I felt a bit confined. There was even a mental aspect. When others were in the car and I buckled up (and they didn't), I wondered if they thought I was unnecessarily afraid of crashing. No one ever said anything, but I remember that thought crossing my mind several times. Did they think I was being overzealous? Did I really need to buckle up when I had ridden without a seatbelt for so many years? I was more comfortable without a seatbelt anyway. Why shouldn't I just ride without it?

As the years passed and seatbelt laws became the standard in every state, buckling up became as routine as putting the key in the ignition. It became the norm. I didn't have to think twice about doing it. I didn't mind it at all. I felt completely comfortable with it on.

As I pondered all this a few days ago, I thought about how I shifted from one habit to the other. How what once was normal became a thing of the past and what was once uncomfortable or undesirable became easy and the preferred way. It should be as simple to shift my thoughts about eating as it was for me to shift them with wearing my seatbelt. What is uncomfortable and strange to do at first may very well later become the norm and what I prefer. I've learned this with many eating habits (and with exercise too). I have fought many needs to change, then later realized I preferred the new way. I'm glad that I understand this concept -- that change can feel normal later on. I have more room to change and am glad to know that it's not as difficult to do as it sometimes seems. I've talked with many people who say, "But I don't like to . . . " or "I can't live without . . . " and I think that may be the case now, but we change. We really do. We have adapted over the years and centuries from eating whole foods to processed foods. We can adapt and change right back to enjoying and preferring whole foods if we just work at it for awhile. We have adapted from living physically demanding lives to living with motorized transportaion, indoor plumbing, and jobs that require us to sit all day instead of lift and move. We can teach our bodies to enjoy a physically active life once again.

As you set your goals for healthier living, don't thwart your progress by thinking you can't take a leap like that. Don't fear your ability to adapt to a healthier way of living. Think of the seatbelt analogy and how what was once so standard in so many lives later became obsolete and a new preference took its place. I'm amazed at this whenever I walk down the ice cream aisle and am no longer tempted. I used to have to forbid myself from even going in that aisle because I knew if I saw a sale sign on the Breyer's or a new Girl Scout flavor in the Dreyers, that I was a gonner. I couldn't depend on myself to stick with my goals. But now I can. I have other foods that I prefer and I'm just fine without it. Now to just get that way with Clif bar products. That's one aisle I truly need to keep myself out of for awhile. Best of health to all of you! -- TTFN!


  1. Good ideas, Renee. It seems hard to change whatever we're used to, but then it tends to start to get easier after making the initial effort. Even getting out of bed in the morning can seem overwhelming, but generally once you're up, it's not as bad as it seemed. The anticipation of change is often worse than the change itself. We psych ourselves out before we even get started on something. I think we can commonly have a fear of change, because it's unknown. Our minds like to keep things consistent and predictable, but then that can keep us in ruts if what we've done historically is unproductive. I've heard there are also good ruts that once we get ourselves into, those habits become almost second nature. So maybe the key is getting motivated and altering our beliefs about what we really want and what we're capable of, and that's probably most of the battle there. Truly convincing yourself that you need to do something and realizing that you have to dive in or things will continue to get worse is likely the pivotal moment. Tony Robbins speaks about this in "Awaken the Giant Within." Isn't there some saying that the best way to break a habit is to drop it? That sounds about right.

  2. Another thing I've heard is the best way to break a habit is to replace it with another habit. With eating, that makes sense because you'll generally eat something else in the place of that donut you used to eat for breakfast (not "you" per se :)) when you break the donut habit. For me, it helps to focus on the new habit instead of the one I think I can not possibly live without.

  3. Renee, this post was perfect for me to hear right now. Thanks for laying it so clearly.

    By the way, this is Emery. :)