Behavior or habit change is difficult. How often have we heard ourselves say “I am going to lose 20 pounds; I know what to eat I just can’t seem to do it; I have an exercise plan, I just can’t stick to it; I am going to get healthier; only to do well for a little while then slip back to the old habits. Despite our best efforts we often fail to sustain our efforts – why? Perhaps we focus too much on the specific issue, like eating the perfect diet, getting the right workout or white-knuckling away our bad habits through sheer willpower. Instead we could be looking at the big picture in terms of how what we are trying to do will fit into and also impact our entire life. Everything in our lives and also our past influences our overall Health Commitment. This is where psychology meets health - Behavioral Medicine. We help people to identify barriers to living healthy lifestyles. We help you to gradually restructure your approach to living a healthier life using an analytic system that helps you examine your decisions throughout the day, determine if they move you toward and not away from health. Together we develop a total strategy for improving the overall quality of your life, not just targeting one specific issue.
This is a comprehensive life-changing program developed over many years of working with people to improve their physical and emotional health. The system starts with a tool for examining the influences on your health commitment - The Health Commitment Matrix. A matrix is a framework that supports a structure or a system; like the frame of a boat holds together the pieces that make up the hull and ultimately keeps it afloat. So the idea behind the Health Commitment Matrix© is to ensure your life is structured in such a way that by carefully layering the strongest materials over the framework you have the best opportunity to sail forward with a quality life.
Ours is a total life enhancement approach that tries to take into account the way that all facets of your life converge to influence your health and your ability to commit to health improvement. We look at your Matrix Core Elements© These are: Work and Financial Life, Health Environment, Health Knowledge, Social & Recreational Life, Physical Health, Personal Support Systems, and Emotion Coping & Stress Management to see how these impact your ability to commit to self-care and good health habits.
Once we identify specific Matrix Core Elements© that need work we help you to set specific goals to address those areas using a the Change Secret Six-step Plan© to reach both your immediate and long term goals: Step 1- Barriers and Strengths; Step 2- Realistic Planning; Step 3- Motivators & Milestones; Step 4- Self-Awareness; Step 5- Expanded Horizons; Step 6- Envisioning My Matrix. In this final step we help you to articulate the overall plan in a way that gives you a ‘personal health philosophy’ for working this plan and dealing with life’s ups and downs, staying on track, and living a quality life.
So let’s start by giving you a little more detail on the Matrix:
This element includes all things relating to finances from how you get your financial support (work, unemployment insurance, pensions etc.) to how much difficulty and stress your job situation creates in your life. It also includes any other finance-related stressors such as bills, mortgages, retirement planning and paying for your children’s education. Of course things like figuring out a plan to live within your means or reducing work stress tops the list here and you can certainly set goals using our plan to achieve this. However let’s take an even more subtle example: Many people put off planning for their child’s schooling. It’s often easier to put it off till later – or so it seems. However, in the back of your mind it’s always there as a low-grade stressor. It becomes larger than life in our minds especially given all the other financial strains we face. However, if you sit down and take a realistic look, set up a small first step, even if it’s just setting up the education savings account so you can put a few dollars in now and again so it’s ready for more when times are better, it becomes an accomplishment as opposed to a stressor.
In this area we consider things like your ability to access healthy options like good quality food, exercise resources, medical care and so forth. We also look at the specifics of your daily life and how they affect your ability to pursue health. For example do you stay home with the kids? Do you travel a great deal? Is there a lot of junk food, alcohol or a cigarette smoker in your home? Once we see what these situations are and how they impact your health we can set clear goals to start improving them.
Even the most informed among us sometimes have difficulty with this area. We see so much conflicting information out there. Often it’s presented as fact in very reputable forums only to be exposed as a sales pitch in the fine print. We are bombarded with self-proclaimed experts telling us what to do. In considering this Matrix element we try to help people weed through all this ‘health noise’ and ‘meditainment’ to locate truly reputable sources of information that they can turn to when in need. That way you don’t waste time and effort reacting to the latest “what’s going to kill you today” teasers on the local news or ‘doctor’ shows. If a specific area of knowledge is lacking; For example you might not know what the best way is to exercise since you have been away from it for a while, or whether ‘cold turkey’ is the best way to quit smoking or drinking. With our approach, you will sit down and develop a clear plan for where to go for the right information, and then set clear goals on how to apply that information once you have it.
What we do socially and who we do it with can have a meaningful impact on our health, quality of life and overall well-being. In this section of the Matrix we look at how you spend your social and recreational time. The old saying “the person you were will keep doing what you did and keep getting what you got” applies. Here you will examine what you do with your free time and set goals to modify your activities to enhance your life. The goal is to reduce unhealthy recreational and social activities while adding life enhancing recreational and social time (increasing ‘health positive’ time).
Oddly enough, this is an area that is often overlooked when we talk about self-improvement. It’s not that we don’t notice the major impacts of serious health issues; it’s just that we tend to overlook the more subtle and pervasive influences of both major and minor health problems on our emotional health, our joy of living, our work productivity, our intimate and other close relationships, our family and so on. By examining this area of the Matrix you can not only ensure that you have the right type of medical help in place, but you can start the process of reducing the negative influences your health has on your overall quality of life.
Beyond our “social life” we have a deeper layer of support that is necessary for emotionally balanced healthy living. For many this is family and for some it also includes a best friend, a trusted mentor, a healthcare provider or a co-worker. Ideally it might include all of the above. In our fast-paced electronically social world we risk seeing what many might consider as casual support as a replacement for deeper personal support. Perhaps we mistake quantity (we are often communicating with countless folks daily) with quality. It is important to look at how our deepest most personal needs are being met and to try to build support systems that address those needs.
How do we deal with the struggles we face? To some degree the answer lies in our attention to the various segments of the Matrix we already discussed. Attending to each of these areas successfully will likely reduce stress, improve emotional coping and create a better quality daily life. In addition, it’s very important to specifically target this area to identify other sources of stress; to learn stress reduction strategies like communication and organizational skills or relaxation and meditation techniques. It is also important to understand if broader emotional issues like self-confidence and self-esteem; depression or anxiety; emotional trauma; substance use and so forth play a role in your health and quality of life.
Now you are ready to put what you have learned about yourself into action. Using our Change Secrets Six Step Plan© in Part II we will outline the steps needed to achieve your goals within the Matrix.