In a recent Amherst News article, “Toward a healthier community,” Colleen Dowe, the Cumberland County health boards coordinator, presented an impressive list of programs and services available in the county to those seeking a healthier lifestyle.
She listed a wide range of outstanding community programs, involving indoor and outdoor walking tracks and paths; free skating opportunities at Amherst, Oxford, and Springhill rinks; YMCA swimming programs; community vegetable gardens, along with cooking and food preparation classes in support of healthy eating; and public campaigns to discourage smoking, and change the culture around drug addiction and alcohol consumption.
But as Colleen pointed out in her article, making available facilities, information, and education, does not seem to be enough to help us all make “the healthy choice the easy choice”. In a recent local survey, respondents cited cost, time, and motivation as the three key obstacles to taking up the personal health challenge.
I believe that of those three obstacles, boosting personal “motivation” is where we need to focus if we are serious about improving physical health in the community. Costs and time need not be that significant and can be planned for and managed, if the will is there.
It’s probable that the main “demotivator” affecting self -improvement has to be the low “self esteem”, and “fear of failure”, that builds up over time from repeatedly trying and failing to succeed in a succession of self-improvement efforts.
These weaknesses become handicaps in taking on major challenges, as we strive to fight addictions like smoking, drug and alcohol dependency, no matter how strong the motivation to defeat them.
The following personal anecdote is an example of the interplay of motivation and self-esteem in our struggle for self-improvement.
Growing up in Wales, I was never much of a fan of fruit and vegetables which were in short supply back then…. and to add to my poor eating habits I was a smoker; that is until I was fortunate, later in life, to meet a wonderful and very determined young woman from this part of the world.
We eventually planned to marry but before we married she made it plain to me that she would not consent to it until I quit smoking. So, what else was I to do but quit - which I did just months before our wedding.
Obviously, the “motivation” in this pre-marital situation could not have been greater. And though my “self esteem” was not the greatest at the time, having failed in many previous attempts to give up the terrible habit, it was not an issue. I had no alternative but to quit.
However, what then happened, as a result of my success, was a sizable boost in my self-esteem and I was able to step up to other lifestyle changes in my exercise and dietary habits. My “fear of failure” was no longer a factor, having succeeded against a much more serious adversary.
What I learned from this experience was that a personal program of gradual lifestyle change is more likely to succeed if it begins with small baby steps, each successful one adding to a store of self -esteem that eventually is sufficient to take on the toughest of challenges.
For example, if you have in mind a program of improving your physical fitness, begin with 20-minute brisk daily walks, indoors or outdoors at a set time each day; and make this a priority each day, over a two-month period.
You will see immediate benefits even with such a modest start; and with that new store of self-esteem in the bank, you will be ready to take on another modest program; say, upper body strengthening and toning with an inexpensive set of dumbbells from Walmart, following instructions you can get on-line. Make this a two-month program for evenings in your bedroom or basement, taking every other day off to allow the body to recover and add to the muscle fibre.
In the days in between, you can begin some light leg and back exercises on an exercise mat - another Walmart purchase - creating more self -esteem in the process. Pretty soon you will want to visit the local YMCA to benefit from more professional help.
If losing weight is your objective take a similar baby-step approach, starting with substituting healthy “nutty/veggie” snacks between smaller meal portions for a couple of months, and develop a taste for more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Not much “fear of failure” here if you are serious.
This recognition that self-esteem is what fuels motivation can also be the driver of other self-improvement plans outside of the health field, using that baby-step approach; and I leave this to your imagination.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and
worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.