Over the years, I’ve collaborated with an eminent Australian polymath (Dr. Grant Donovan of Perth) in conducting research on lifestyle change. Our work has focused on understanding whether adults have a better than 50/50 chance of benefiting from efforts to improve their lifestyles. Our double-blind, crossover, randomized horizontal and dignified trials have explored a simple but profound question that others have taken for granted, namely, can humans do it? That is, can individuals convince themselves to change their lifestyles and, more important, sustain over time whatever healthy habits they wish to adopt? If not, then clearly the frustrations of failure and increases in learned hopelessness make it highly unlikely that attempts at lifestyle improvements will have much chance to succeed and be beneficial. Repeated failure at lifestyle change are worse than never even trying to live healthfully, as the frustrations and disappointments lead to lost interest in change, lower self-worth and thus poorer health status.
Our studies have shown, conclusively we believe, that most people can’t do it. We refer to this phenomenon as I can’t do it or ICAN’TDOIT. Once the nature of this reality is understood, those who still desire to attempt positive lifestyle changes will have a better chance for success, since a rare few can in fact do it, if somewhat gifted by favorable circumstances and aware of the difficulties. Everyone should be willing to pay attention to ways that boost success rates.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
We found that living healthfully is too demanding largely because most are not prepared for the obstacles in the way. Make no mistake–if everyone could put into practice and sustain healthy choices, they would. Who wants to be sick and die prematurely? Who wants NOT to look good and have ample energy and live life to the full? If it were easy, everyone would accept responsibility for a high quality of life by choosing to exercise vigorously on a regular basis, eat well, manage stress, think critically and do all the rest. After all, wellness is, as I have long preached (in a secular fashion), fun, romantic and hip, sexy and free. It’s a richer way to be alive. Live this way and you will be stronger and better looking, have higher morale, superior bowel movement and more antibodies to resist pandemics.
You’d be a little crazy not to live this way–IF YOU COULD. However, the lamentable situation we discovered is you probably can’t, which we abbreviate as ICAN’TDOIT.
Napoleon Hill, author of the famous Andrew Carnegie formula for money-making entitled, Think and Grow Rich, studied several thousand people–and concluded that 98 percent of them were failures. This might be a little harsh and an overestimate. Still, it was interesting to think about the thirty major reasons he thought accounted for why so many fail.
When Grant and I looked at Hill’s explanations for explaining failure at making money, we concluded that twenty of Hills reasons apply as well to attempts to live healthfully, along the advanced lines of wellness lifestyles.
Here are the twenty factors so identified:
1. Unfavorable Hereditary Background. Many people are born with a deficiency in brainpower or lack of physical capacity–and there is relatively little they can do about it.
2. Lack of Ambition to Aim Above Mediocrity. People lack ambition and are not willing to put in the considerable effort required for success.
3. Insufficient Education. Hill found that the best-educated people are often those who are self-educated and get whatever they want in life without violating the rights of others. Many people have school-based knowledge, but lack the capacity to effectively and persistently apply their learning. As Hill notes, men are paid, not merely for what they know, but more particularly for what they do with what they know.”
4. Lack of Self-Discipline. Most people fail because they lack the discipline required for self-control. Hill: If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by it. You may see at one and the same time both your best friend and your greatest enemy, by stepping in front of a mirror.
5. Ill Health. Hill: No person may enjoy outstanding success without good health. Most of those Hill studied overconsumed foods not conducive to good health status, lacked sufficient physical exercise, rarely breathed fresh air and generally had poor habits of thought. Sound familiar?
6. Unfavorable Environmental Influences During Childhood. Most people acquire bad habits from poor environments and improper associates during childhood. They spend the rest of their impoverished lives blaming others because they cantdoit.
7. Procrastination. Hill’s research led him to conclude that people are always waiting for the ‘time to be just right’ to start doing something worthwhile. It almost goes without saying that the time is never just right.
8. Lack of Persistence. Most people start well but finish poorly. They fail in time because they are prone to giving up at the first signs of defeat.
9. Negative Personality. Most people don’t like each other. Hill argues that success comes through the application of power, and power is attained through the cooperative efforts of other people. A negative personality will not induce cooperation.
10. Uncontrolled Desire for Something for Nothing. Most people have a gambling instinct and a desire to be rich without effort, hence the worldwide success of casinos and lottery groups.
11. Lack of a Well-Defined Power of Decision. Hill believed successful people reach decisions promptly and change them, if at all, slowly; most people, on the other hand, reach decisions slowly and change them frequently.
12. Wrong Selection of a Mate in Marriage. Poor relationships are energy-sapping and destroy most ambitions.
13. Superstition. Superstition is a sign of ignorance. Most people believe many foolish things unsupported by evidence or reason.
14. Wrong Selection of a Vocation. The chances of success are not good in work environments that are disliked.
15. Lack of Concentration of Effort. Most are easily distracted. They fail to focus their efforts on one definitive aim.
16. The Habit of Indiscriminate Spending. This is the big one in Western society. Most people risk financial instability by spending (not investing) more than they can afford.
17. Intolerance. People often fail to realize quality lifestyles because they are close-minded and religiously, racially and politically intolerant.
18. Inability to Cooperate with Others. People lose opportunities in life because they lack the capacity to work effectively with others.
19. Guessing Instead of Thinking. Hill suggests, most people are too indifferent or lazy to acquire facts with which to think accurately. They prefer to act on opinions created by guesswork or snap-judgments.
20. Lack of Capital. Most people start out and travel through life without sufficient capital to absorb the shock of mistakes.
Donovan and I do not hold that these twenty factors are the most critical variables for everyone with regard to changing lifestyles for the better. Yet, these twenty do explain why so many find it difficult to sustain good intentions to live healthfully.
By familiarizing yourself with this list, you may develop a greater appreciation of the seriousness of the barriers or obstacles to wellness, and thereby increase the extent of your commitment. It takes a great deal of devotion and intention to continue over time to invest the required energy to sustain your wellness lifestyles.
RESEARCH SUPPORTS THESE FINDINGS
A non-rigorous, uncontrolled study reported in the satirical Onion revealed a trend showing that there are no reliable set of factors that enable a person to take better care of himself, or to alter his behavior in a meaningful sense. Dr. Janice Carlisle, the report author, conclude that we’re all wasting our time here. She added...long-term health education meant nothing last year, and will mean nothing this year or any year after until you die, so forget it. Just do what you want. The article, entitled New Study Finds Nothing That Will Actually Convince You To Change Your Lifestyle So Just Forget It, is one of the best sources for light-hearted, if not reliable news. (See The Onion, Apr 30, 2013.)
Think about all this and decide if you are truly ready to pursue a REAL wellness lifestyle.
Good luck and don’t underestimate how hard it can be to remain focused on the bright side of life.