Column: A tool kit for making effective lifestyle changes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sara Aeikens, Special to the Tribune

There are simple, specific tools most anyone can use for remembering things, learning new behaviors, or changing old habits or patterns. Just knowing my goal doesn’t work very well for me. Writing, posting, actually saying out loud and practicing using my new behavior with others helps a lot. The key that really aids me, is identifying ahead of time how I usually sabotage the goal.

We all know exercise is vital for healthy aging. Here are some tools I use often, that work well for me. In fact, they make a huge difference in helping me do physical activity on a regular basis.

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1. I can identify what I believe about change. I believe I have about a four year old kid inside me who has the majority vote. Ignoring her is a mistake. I believe it’s crucial to realize I tell myself numerous things that aren’t really true. Checking the truth is important for change. I believe in the power of prayer. I set up protection when I am afraid to attempt something new, by doing research about the new activity. Then I give myself permission to act.

2. I

know how I learn best personally. If I am making a long-term life-style change, my fearful, doubtful self, needs to hear and know she’s loved and nurtured by me and others. Having fun is imperative. She loves rewards and I use them frequently. She loves candy. She gets the best sweet grapes instead. Her ratio of yeses to nos is about four to one, so I give myself about four positive messages to one OK &8220;don’t&8221; message. It’s different for each person.

3. I use what I call multi-sensory tools for life style changes. In kid’s terms, I use all my senses. The left logical brain we all rely on takes in only about a dozen bits of information per second. Our non-verbal brain absorbs thousands of bits of information per second, so it makes sense to use our whole brain for life-style changes, especially as we age. Here’s what works for me using my different senses.

Seeing – I have a picture on the frig of me and someone I love smiling at me at a fun event. I have my goal written or printed out, with my non-dominant hand, large and bold, with a cute stick color drawing, I or my grand-niece made. I have a color magazine photo that fits my goal. I daily sit quietly and visualize am image of any of these, or my grandma or Jesus holding my hand under a tree in a flower garden.

Hearing and Doing – I tell at least two friends what I am doing and my successes and setbacks. They agree to check in with me regularly for a fun cup of tea with feedback. I play classical music or old-time 50’s music when I am doing stretching exercises. I practice breathing slowly and using a sound on the exhale.

I catch my

little white lies about what I believe about me and exercise. I allow myself mistakes and to learn from them. I attempt to not &8220;should&8221; on myself and work on saying &8220;I’ll do my best&8221; rather than &8220;I’ll try.&8221; I re-write my most repetitive self-talk messages in a colorful journal. I practice changing my words.

Taste – I practice savoring bits of dark chocolate to open up my taste buds to appreciate just a bite.

Smell and Touch – In summer, I go outside near a tree, sit barefoot and smell nature or put my soles to the earth. I ask for and share hugs, even finger hugs or a caring touch. When I do any moving activity, I consider it exercise. To use my optimum brain cells I cross the mid-line when reaching for something.

Other specific ideas I would suggest that I use on a regular basis are to: Use flexibility, forgiveness, meditation, prayer, repetition, frequent little bits of discipline, and fun. Listen to the seasons outside and inside your body and adjust. Increase

walking sessions only by five minutes or so and then go out another short bit later. Phone a friend to come along and then another if the first says no. I had an un-used mileage counter that I now wear daily when I discovered it counts steps. I am amazed how the steps count up in little bits.

Doing something works. Doing nothing is going backwards.

Do just a little something, no matter what disabilities you have at the moment. Sometimes I even walk backwards on purpose. Just for fun.

(Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.)