“Change is hard,” says Dr. Laura Asbell, a Spokane psychologist. “We see it in our culture as a willpower thing, but it is actually a neurological thing. We create habits — standard ways of doing things that are much more efficient. So when we try to get our brain to put in a new habit, our brain is going to fight us like crazy. That is just normal. It just means we are trying to get our brain to grow new neurons and new synapses.”
Surprisingly, Asbell says, it is actually just as easy to make a big change as a little one, so you may as well aim high. “Any change is effortful, so if you’re going to do any change, it may as well be a big change,” she says.
With time, implementing change becomes easier. “You build a new pattern, you don’t have to think,” Asbell explains. But you do have to be vigilant. Likening old habits to the ruts on eastbound I-90, she cautions, “If we relax one iota, we’re back in the ruts. We’re trying to grow new ruts and let the old ruts heal.”
Make sure to maximize your chances for success by creating a supportive external structure — if you’re dieting or trying not to drink alcohol, it is far easier not to have junk food or alcohol in the house. Give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge what you’ve done well, while not dwelling on past mistakes. If you slipped up, make plans for how you will do better tomorrow. “In lieu of focusing on how we messed up, our power is in the future,” Asbell says.
If a health crisis means you’ll need to make some serious changes in your lifestyle — giving up favorite foods, enduring difficult treatment and adapting to new regimens — Asbell recommends not dwelling on what you’re trying to avoid: another heart attack or more weight gain. Instead, “Focus on the positive outcomes,” she says. “What you are going to get with the change is better than focusing on what you’ll lose if you don’t make changes. Think about how, if you do this hard stuff, you’re going to get your vigor back. That is much more motivating.”
If the changes you’re facing have serious health implications, Asbell has some advice. “Some people are afraid that if you make peace with death, you’re more likely to die. That’s just crazy … Paradoxically, the most powerful thing we can do is make peace with dying. When we make peace with it, that frees us up to create the future.”
We hope you’ll be inspired to do what it takes to achieve your best health as you read about three Inland Northwest residents who’ve overcome some very serious health issues. They share firsthand the challenges — and joys — of making a fresh start.