Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

The Healthy Way to Make Life Changes

We all do it. With a new year, we make resolutions that we think will change/improve our lives in the months ahead. That notion of fast results, of overnight success, of “overhauling” our bodies and health is a huge part of our cultural conditioning—often exploited through marketing. However, that’s not how it works for humans. Sustainable change is not an upheaval, and the belief that it is is why many fail to make those changes stick for long. By this time in the year, many of your best intentions may have fallen by the wayside. You wouldn’t be alone.

Believing we have to create radical change as the calendar flips sets off alarms in our nervous system. It triggers our fight/ flight/ freeze responses. You can “white knuckle” sticking to a restrictive diet or take more exercise classes only to find yourself a week later eating a pizza on the couch and giving up. It takes a lot of conscious attention and energy to practice something new. Biologically, the brain sees this as a waste of precious calories.

You might have read that and thought, but burning calories is good, right? Not for our survival, that’s why the brain tries to automate our behaviors as much as possible, to save time and energy. Our brains are predictive, meaning once a habit is formed, our brain retrieves the answer to- how should I act in this situation and environment- from what we’ve done in the past? It takes time to make change sustainable.

This is where mindset matters. We know our environment, neural pathways, and our past experiences all influence how we respond once we are triggered, or cued, to act out of habit. Therefore, the first step to changing habits is to become conscious of them.

Bringing awareness to your behaviors means meeting yourself in the moment. In the same ways that we as queer people have had to return to ourselves again and again in our lives to identify who we are and what works for us at different points in our lives.

Self-awareness is the most powerful skill to possess when we’re talking about creating the life and experiences we want for ourselves.

Here are a few tips on how to use what I regard as a superpower, our queerness (or whatever word you’d use here) to enact significant sustainable change in your health and life:

1. Get clear on why you want to achieve a certain goal, whatever that may be. It’s usually a lot deeper than, “I want to lose weight”, and more like “I want to feel more confident in my body.” How does this fit in with your values, identity, and what you want to experience in life?

2. Identify the smallest action you could start taking each day that would help you consistently move closer to your goal. The smaller the better, this way we don’t set off the alarm bells in our bodies. For example, start a movement practice with walking around the block 1 time per day for 2 weeks. Once it feels super easy to practice, then you increase slowly.

3. Make your environment work for you, Ask yourself: “What things do I need to help me get out the door on my walk, putting sneakers near the door, downloading a few podcasts, recruiting a walking buddy?”

4. This works the other way too: “What obstacles do I think might come up around this habit, how can I remove things in my environment that won’t be helpful?”

The goal is to start shifting our thinking away from having to feel motivated and focus on the small behaviors that are going to help us build Momentum. Motivation acts more like emotion; comes and goes. Whereas building momentum using small daily actions practiced over time taps into how our brain naturally works, and so it’ll observe that this action is being taken repeatedly and it’ll automate it for us! Then, by the time that walk around the block slowly turns into a 5k walk/run at the end of 6 months, you’ll be astounded at how easy it was to do. Then, take the pressure off by considering everything just practice! Need some help figuring out your next steps? Let me know what you’re working on!