How to Cope with Change, Part 5: Know When to Take a Step Back
Making any major lifestyle change can prove difficult. Making any major moves with a group of individuals can be even more challenging, right? You are managing differing opinions, differing agendas, differing tastes, differing work styles, different people. You can't push an elephant. The elephant has to want to move. Coming together to create change requires a special mixture of give-and-take, the willingness to compromise, the willingness to respect the opinion and point-of-view of others. It requires less talking and more listening. I have made multiple mistakes over the past several months in the attempt to change my family's lifestyle. I've realized that I've done a lot of talking and not much listening. I've been pushy and impatient. Once I discovered that we weren't living as healthy as I once thought we were, I felt an urgent need to get us on the right track. When I say urgent, I mean very urgent. I wanted to immediately get us all on a better trajectory. One without preventable chronic diseases on the horizon. I felt guilty about what I was feeding my family, and I wanted to correct it right then. I still have that desire; however, after several months I did not feel like we'd made the progress that we could have made. I did some introspection. I came to realize that I had chill out. I had to cool out all of the preaching to my kids and husband. All the "we need to eat this and that," "this is healthy," "that is unhealthy," and "we need to find ways to be more physically active." All that sounds like "blah, blah, blah" to a 13, 10, 4, and 3 year-old for sure. My husband noticed how hard I'd been working at this and because he loves me so much realized that all my nagging (my words, not his, and I hate nagging) is also out of love. I want my family to live a healthy lifestyle because I love them.
Since we've begun this journey, I have been trying to get everyone on board as soon as possible. I was on the train already traveling at full speed. I had all the information I needed to get us where we are going. I was ready. Let's go! However, I was not giving my family a chance to even consider buying a ticket for this train ride. It was like I was advertising a trip. Look at the sun and beaches in the picture! Don't you want to go? Come on! I flashed the picture so quickly, they didn't even get a good look before I grabbed their hands and tried to pull them aboard. I could not for the life of me figure out why everyone wasn't jumping out of their shoes to come along. Why would you not want to live your healthiest life? Why would you not want to live a healthy lifestyle? Why is this sooooo hard!?! Once I took a step back to see all of my family's different perspectives, I had the answers to my questions. My oldest son is a teenager. He's already trying to figure life out. There's confusion and curiosity. There's the desire to be autonomous. Then, here I come swooping in like an eagle, making major lifestyle changes by really honing in on how to eat healthy. I can only imagine how frustrating and irritating that must have been for him at first. My oldest daughter had just recently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Again, she's likely confused and trying to figure out how her life will now be different with this lifelong disease. She's has to go to school, play sports, hangout with friends but now with Crohn's disease. I'm sure she was frustrated some days in wanting to eat certain foods that she used to be able to eat and sees others eating; however, she can no longer eat due to her Crohn's disease. My youngest daughter, well, she just likes what she likes from a very young age, and she has no problem telling you what she likes and doesn't like. She was frustrated by not being able to eat the foods she enjoyed on a pretty regular basis. With her age at that time, she had not a clue as to why these things were happening. She just heard mommy saying, "We don't eat that anymore" and "We need to eat healthier." She still recites the "We eat vegetables" line all the time, most times with enthusiasm but some times begrudgingly. Understandably so. Who wants to be told they cannot eat a food they want. Let me think...NO ONE! Then comes my youngest son who was very young when we started making changes. He had and still has minimal exposure to the way we used to eat. He knows those types of foods exist. He doesn't ask for them often, but when he does, at three years old, it's incessant. He'll try to break you down with torture using only words, asking over-and-over using the same phrase back-to-back and adding "but, please" after each and every response that doesn't result in him getting his way. My husband is not a fan of change. As long as life is going smoothly, he is okay with things staying the way they are or how they are. Needless to say, he did not quickly jump on the changing lifestyle and finding ways to incorporate eating healthier foods in our diets. I get it. If it's not broke, don't fix it. To me it was broken, but for him personally it was not. It was not a change he felt he needed to make for himself at the time. I continued to educate but had to wait until he was ready to change. I had no choice but to respect his views. I had to respect everyone's views.
Respecting someone's point-of-view and listening to their concerns, questions, and frustrations opens communication pathways when attempting to change habits for a group of people. You can talk and preach and educate until you're blue in the face, but if your audience doesn't feel like you're listening to them, why would they listen to you? Why would anyone want to listen to someone who is quick to talk but slow to listen? It is difficult to follow a leader who leads with deaf ears and blind eyes. How can one trust that leader knows where he is going if he cannot see? How can one trust a leader to lead when she only hears herself? A leader has to listen. You have to know when to not already know what you're going to say next when someone is speaking to you. That means you're not listening. Realize when you're the problem. If people aren't following, it may not be to faults of their own. They may hear the message and want to follow but cannot follow that particular leader. Know when it's time for introspection. Reflect on where you are, how you've reached that point, and what you've heard from your potential followers. Are you listening? Take a serious step back and think about it.
I had to take a step back to figure out why my family was not hopping aboard the healthy lifestyle train with enthusiasm. I felt like I was doing everything right. I obtained new information. I decided to make a change. I discussed it with my family. I explained why we needed to do it. My mistakes started, however, when I assumed my reasoning and motivation for the change was reason and motivation enough for them. I did a lot of talking early on in our transition and not much listening. I honestly felt the information and knowledge I shared with them should have been enough to get them onboard. I was foolish and inconsiderate, not for wanting to help my family be healthier and not for sharing my knowledge of why eating whole food and being physically active meant a healthy lifestyle. I was foolish and inconsiderate for thinking that everyone should be ready and willing right away just because I was in that state. Why would anyone be excited to limit foods they find tasty and enjoy eating? I should have never expected my motivation to be adequate motivation for anyone but me. I had to change my approach.
I, just like most of us, am just trying to figure it all out. I took a step back and did some looking within myself. I decided to listen and in that gained more respect for my family members' points-of-view. I backed off of my oldest son and allowed him more autonomy in his decision making. I listened to my oldest daughter's frustrations and fears and joined her on her rollercoaster ride in coming to terms with her chronic disease so she knows she is not alone. I came to terms that my youngest daughter just needed me to be patient with her so that she can gain an understanding of what was going on and why. My youngest son had the advantage of not going in the wrong direction too long before we made a change in a different and healthier direction. Then, with my husband I had to allow him to find his terms and motivation for change. He has. It's weird but people hear you better when you talk less.
I aspire to help as many people as I can. I want us all to feel as best as we can and live as healthy as we can. We have so much control over our health. It starts in how we treat our bodies. We've been condition to think that diabetes will come at some point in our lives. High blood will come. A heart attack, a stroke will come. It's just a matter of time. That does not have to be the case. We can prevent most of these occurrences and diseases with eating healthy and being physically active. If these are changes for you and your family, be patient. Making major life changes can be difficult. I have learned that and so much more in guiding my family through our transition into a healthier lifestyle. Is it perfect? No. Is anything we do ever perfect? I've learned to not be hard on myself and to allow my family to evolve at each individual's own pace. It has become a much less stressful journey for us. I have to listen more in order to be heard. So basically, my big take away is shut up. I have a message, but in order for people to hear it, I have to first listen.
Always striving to help,
If you're interested in living a healthy lifestyle and would like to be heard and helped, check getfitward.com