Not that long ago, I was out of shape, eating food that was lousy for me, and I was too tired to care. But it all changed because of my father’s dog.
The dog’s name was Mr. Peabody, and the dog was morbidly obese. My father took the dog out for McDonald’s sausage sandwiches every morning, and went back for ice cream every night. That dog was double a healthy weight, and had diabetes. The vet gave him just a few months to live unless my father could take better care of him.
My father loved that dog and immediately began changing their habits. Instead of going out for McDonald’s sausage sandwiches, they went for a walk. Instead of ice cream every night, they went for another walk. And my father carefully administered insulin shots for the dog. Within a couple of months, Mr. Peabody was down to a healthy weight, his youthful energy returned, and we thought it was a miracle.
Of course it wasn’t a miracle.
My father cared about that dog but he realized in the nick of time that he also had to care for the dog.
I spent many years slowly putting on weight until, at the age of 43, I was in a very unhealthy shape. I wanted to make a change and already I had tried every gimmick diet I could find. Nothing worked beyond a couple of months before my old habits crept back into my life. It was frustrating to the point of despair. I wanted to have energy to be an active part of my family, especially my kids’ lives. Instead, I was risking my health.
In fact, my cholesterol had spiked and my doctor wanted me to go on statins. Things were not looking good for me.
I remembered my father’s dog, Mr. Peabody, and it hit me that my father took better care of that dog than I was taking care of myself. I decided I needed to care for myself the way my father cared for his dog.
I was able to lose weight, improve my physical fitness, and improve my health overall. I had more energy, slept better, and was able to work on passion projects in addition to doing well at my career.
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen in a couple of months (not at all like it was for Mr. Peabody the dog). It took over a year. But knowing that it took me 30 years to mess up my health, I decided I would give myself two years to restore my health. And when I was able to declare it a success in less than two years, I felt like I’d really accomplished something.
Keeping up those routines for that long wasn’t easy. So how did I do it?
The key for me was to connect my goal — improved health — to what I cared about — my family. With that, I was able to establish a healthy pattern of better nutrition and regular exercise.
I shed the weight I didn’t need, lowered my cholesterol, and really adopted a habit for healthy living. Ten years later, that habit is still a strong part of my life and I’m happier than I ever have been before.
Not that I don’t have challenges each day in keeping that habit. But I keep a firm hold on the source of my motivation — taking care of myself so that I can be a part of my family — to help me overcome obstacles as I find a way each day to keep taking care of myself.
So how do you do this? What if your situation is entirely different than mine? What are you going to do?
The first thing is to identify what it is that you care enough about to want to change your life. It doesn’t have to be about your own family. It could be a goal entirely of your own choosing, such as learning to be an artist of some kind, or taking up a sport, or starting a new career.
You can even have goals that have nothing to do with health or fitness. But I promise you that health and fitness have everything to do with achieving any goal because our bodies and minds perform better when we are in good health.
Still, the key is to pick your goal. Think about it, write it down, then sleep on it.
In the morning, if you are sure it’s the right goal, then you can take the next step.
That’s right. Take a moment and acknowledge how you have taken the first step in a journey towards doing something amazing for yourself.
That’s right, not only are you to congratulate yourself but I want you to celebrate. Buy yourself something nice, like a new outfit, or go see a movie, or some token of appreciation that will be meaningful to you.
Because one of the most important things you must do to break free of your old, self-destructive habits is to replace them with new, self-improving habits. And the way to do that is to reward your good actions. Choosing the reason you are going to take better care of yourself is the most important action to take, and you must convince your own mind that it is a worthy endeavor.
Find a place to keep that thing you care about close and familiar. You can write it down in a journal every morning. Or write it down on a card and read it to yourself every day. Or, better still, build a vision board about that thing and hang it on your bedroom wall.
This sounds very elaborate but you are going to be struggling to overcome a lifetime of resistance to achieving your goal and changing self-destructive habits. Remember, the human brain is actually wired for efficiency, and so the easiest thing for your brain to do is nothing. Don’t go get healthy food from the store. Don’t get dressed and exercise. Don’t go to bed on time but stay up late binge watching whatever the television plays.
You will need a reason to care for yourself that is near and dear to your heart. You will also need to remind yourself of that reason as you struggle to adopt self-improving habits and reach for your goal.
If you can do all that, you can use it to take the next step in your journey to save your life. Which I will talk about in my next article.