by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND
People come in to consult with me because they want something to be different. They want to be able to sleep, they want to have a baby, they want enough energy to enjoy their downtime, they are tired of struggling with depression, they are tired of picking up every bug during cold & flu season. While the details of treatment are unique for each person, every healing journey involves the integration of new lifestyle habits and/or ways of thinking. This means more than simply trying something new and finding that it makes you feel good, but truly integrating a change so that things ARE different from now on. This means going beyond the latest wonder-supplement for immunity or depression. Instead, we go within, to discover what it is that has thrown off your body’s natural balance in the first place.
What formula can we follow to get you there?
I can’t count how many times I have seen variations of the following scenario: I am working with someone and we come up with a plan, eg. work out 4 days a week. At their follow-up, they have been to the gym once, and then … it fizzled. They resolve to meet the same goal again. And again, despite telling me it is what they want to do, and telling me how they know they will feel better, they don’t do it.
Why not do it?
Why would someone tell me they want to exercise, ask for and agree to the plan, and then not do it?? I don’t view this as a patient being “noncompliant”. This is your care, your process. Your responsibility is to yourself, not to me. My job is to help you get where you want to go, to help you find balance in your life and within yourself. The question, then, is what is the obstacle to you taking this step that you tell me you want to take? What is the gap between what you say will be good for you, and what is right for you now, in this moment?
I have some theories.
I think that it often comes down to whether or not we are listening – truly listening – to our bodies. Is the voice that says I “should” exercise coming from outside of you, when instead your body just wants some stillness? Are you exhausted? Are you resolving to do weights because your read somewhere that doing weights is the best for your bones, but what really resonates for you is ballroom dancing? Or, it might be a matter of being stuck in all-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be a saint, and never allow a morsel of sugar or white flour to pass my lips. Otherwise there is no point and I should just eat a whole package of cookies since I’ve messed it up anyway”. The accompanying guilt, shame and blame when we set ourselves to “fail” in these ways paralyzes us into inaction. And, well, we all know how good – or not good – this kind of cycle feels when we are stuck in it.
What can we do instead?
- Observe where you are, and practice compassion. Judging oneself harshly only leads to shame and blame, and lasting change cannot be built on these emotional states. Are you are feeling exhausted because you are watching tv or surfing the internet each night until the wee hours? Observe this pattern. Perhaps you will notice that this habit allows you to fall into sleep without feeling something (loneliness, sadness, fear, grief) that you wish to avoid. Be kind & gentle with yourself.
- Look underneath the behaviour you want to change, and try to track it back to the root. So, if you are eating cookie dough ice cream each evening because you are sad, rather than resolving to stop eating the ice cream, resolve to address the sadness.
- Identify goals that come from within you. Find yoga yucky but love being outside? Make walking your restorative exercise time.
Sustainable change comes from a place that is rooted deeply inside you. By looking at what you are doing and why, you can come to understand the root of the behaviour. From this root, guided by the principles of observation and compassion. you can rebuild a strong foundation that will take you where you want to go.
Mahalia Freed is a naturopathic doctor happily living and practicing in downtown Toronto. In her family practice, Mahalia has a special focus in endocrinology (including PMS, PCOS, thyroid concerns), mental health, oncology, fertility, and perinatal care.