How We Change

Founding editor, Pilar Gerasimo, on the challenges — and successes — we face as we embrace change.

Pilar Gerasimo

It is fitting, perhaps, that one of Experience Life’s most popular departments — a section dedicated to real-life healthy transformations — has reinvented itself a few times over the years.

For a long time, it was called “Success Stories.” Next (taking on an empowered, first-person voice), it became “How I Did It.” Then, for a brief period, it adopted a shift to the continuative tense, becoming “How I’m Doing It” — a moniker that put a nice emphasis on process versus outcome, but that always struck me as a bit . . . awkward.

So last spring, I invited the team to come up with some new alternatives. We finally settled on “My Turnaround”. It’s a title that reflects the power of a decision point — not as a final destination, but as the conclusion of one leg of a journey and the beginning of a new one.

Change happens when people are willing to embrace it.

For all its title changes, one thing I have consistently loved about this section is its ability to translate some underbroadcasted truths about healthy lifestyle change. Here are a few:

  • Change happens when people are willing to embrace it. In many cases, this is only after decades of pain, discomfort, and denial — which may in turn be followed by equally long periods of thinking about it, preparing, and “trying.” While it’s possible to inspire others to consider change, or to nudge them forward by creative and supportive means, it is generally not possible to nag or shame somebody into making change until he or she is good and ready. That readiness is produced by intensely personal factors — factors that are difficult to control, manufacture, or predict.
  • Change is rarely a linear process. We are prone to lurching forward and falling back. As psychologist James O. Prochaska, PhD, explains, even after we have begun a phase of committed action, any of us can easily cycle back into a “contemplation” or “preparation” phase, particularly if we experience some kind of trauma, or run short of energy, encouragement, or resources. (For more on all that, see our feature “The Stages of Change”.)
  • Readiness to change is often triggered by notable experiences or events. Sometimes these are catastrophes: medical emergencies, socially painful “rock bottom” moments, or profound personal losses. Other times, they are positive catalysts: latching onto inspiring role models or enticing new goals; connecting with a deeper sense of purpose; wanting to be a better partner or parent; being offered the gift of helpful information or support at just the moment it is needed.
  • There are many gateways to healthy change. For some people, a newfound love of activity inspires healthy changes in eating. For others, a change in eating delivers the energy that allows them to become more active. For others, a reduction in stress or improvement in sleep allows them to reclaim more conscious choices and healthier patterns in many other areas of their lives. For others, a big “aha” about something completely unrelated to health — their career, their relationship, their home situation — results in a whole-life overhaul. It almost doesn’t matter where you begin. All these roads lead to the same destination: a healthier, happier life.

That brings me to one of the other fascinating things about change: One positive shift almost inevitably begets others. And not just for us as individuals. Each time one of us experiences a breakthrough, those around us benefit — or at least find ourselves triggered to grow in new ways.

The truth is, change doesn’t always feel great. It can be scary, intense, challenging. It can strain relationships. It can upset stasis and equilibrium. It can invite criticism and complaint.

Ultimately, though, when any of us grows in the direction of our dreams, we fulfill a sacred contract. We rise to a Hero’s Journey challenge. That may mean confronting dark forests and dragons. It may mean doing things that family, friends, and colleagues don’t approve of, or even understand. It may mean traveling unmarked paths — the kind that are “less traveled,” primarily because they aren’t, at first glance, terribly appealing.

And that’s a big part of why I like to remind people: “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act.” Healthy self-change is a powerful thing. So if you’re embarking on it, or even thinking about it, give yourself some credit. Be cool with where you are. Take the next clear step. And just keep going.

Pilar Gerasimo is Experience Life’s founding editor. Follow her on Twitter @pgerasimo.

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