Changing behavior to change results

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |

You want to lose weight. You want to quit smoking or exercise more, but your habits are keeping you from making these changes. Is it possible to get different results and not make changes in lifestyle habits?

Albert Einstein said that this is the definition of insanity — “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You would be surprised to know that many, many people expect just this. Not long ago, a middle-aged man came into the hospital suffering from congestive heart failure and a rapid heart beat. His heart had become weakened. The heart pumping function had dropped from a normal value of 55 percent down to 30 percent. When I suggested that he would need to be on medications long term and lose weight (he weighed more than 400 pounds) to help his heart return back to normal, he said, “Why, I’ve been living this way for many years. Why should I change?”

I explained that his current habits had created a situation in which his heart was failing. His blood pressure was off the charts. His legs were massively swollen, retaining fluid.

I asked him, “Do you think you can do the same thing but get a different result?”

Amazingly, he had to think for a long, long time. “I’ve had skipped beats for many years,” he said.

“Yes, you probably have, but now they’ve progressed to an abnormal heart rhythm. This has caused your heart to weaken. So it’s not the same,” I said.

His face scrunched up in a state of disbelief. I could tell he didn’t want to accept what I was trying to say to him. He had to know that things were different. Sure, he may have had skipped beats before, but now he was in the hospital and had excessively labored breathing.

I stayed in his room for 10 more minutes, but I couldn’t convince him that he would have to make some major changes in his life. “I like what I do. I’d rather die than give up the things I love,” he said, referring to his eating habits and smoking.

Later that day I began to ponder what had happened with this patient. Why was it so difficult for people to accept change, or to recognize that they needed to change their lives?

* People are creatures of habit. They like routine. It makes them feel safe.

* They don’t like stepping out into what they perceive as an unsafe area of their lives.

* People want it easy. They are too willing to give up and not do something they may perceive as difficult.

Are you someone like this? Do you have bad habits that are ruining your health? If you’re someone who is suffering because of this predicament, I have a few suggestions and thoughts:

* Sticking your head in the sand may work for a short period, but eventually life has a way of exposing such wrong-headed thinking.

* The quicker you wake up and address your problems, the more likely you’ll be to avoid permanent damage to your health.

* There are worse things than dying. If you ignore serious health issues you may not die, but may have to suffer horrible pain or suffering because of your illness.

* Continue trying to change. Don’t give up. Even if you fail this day, or this week, try again. Most people who succeed have failed before.

Dr. Kirk Laman is a practicing cardiologist whose interest is in helping people heal their whole heart. He is an author and pastor and wrote “How to Heal Your Broken Heart.”