Losing weight. Changing careers at fifty-five. Changing careers at any point in your life. Starting a business. Beating diabetes. Beating addiction.
I’ve worked with clients tackling all of these things. And there’s one obvious commonality they all share. They’re all incredibly difficult things to accomplish.
If losing weight were simple, there’d be no multi-billion dollar diet and fitness industries. If changing careers or starting a business were easy, people wouldn’t reach eighty and regret not taking more chances earlier in their life.
Diabetes and addiction, while different beasts to each other, are most often daily battles. Rarely is there a moment where one is restored to their original health. Our bodies don’t come with reset buttons. The impact of dis-ease lasts a lifetime. And every morning, peace must be re-negotiated.
Each of these struggles challenge us to push the limits of what is possible for the individual human being. Certainly they challenge the expectations of us.
A common refrain I’ve heard from clients changing careers is that their bosses don’t expect them to actually quit and succeed. To be fair, these guys are financially invested in us showing up to work again on Monday.
Most doctors likewise don’t expect either diabetics or addicts to ever change. Of course, if you did, they’d lose a patient, a source of income, and a source of validity in their own work.
This was the fact that surprised me most during an international health coach call I participated in a couple years ago. Colleague after colleague of mine from the medical field lamented the fact that none of their diabetic patients were interested in adopting any sort of lifestyle change.
While they came at health coaching from the direction of wanting to motivate these patients, I come to this field from the perspective of someone who is managing their blood glucose levels without pharmaceutical intervention through holistic nutrition, fitness, and other lifestyle-based strategies.
I surprised the room when my own experience was the exact opposite of theirs. I’ve seen countless diabetics already implementing lifestyle changes with success. These same clients reported that it was their doctors, not themselves who were strongly against exploring lifestyle changes for beating diabetes.
Could both be true?
What I took away from that call at first was a hot-headed reaction to the typical medical establishment. Of course doctors don’t want their patients to change, I reassured myself. That would defeat their whole business model.
The truth though is that I do the exact same thing. I want my clients to be successful because that’s my model.
Ethics and philosophy aside for a moment, where myself and my colleagues in medicine share common ground is in creating a framework of expectations for the people we work with. It’s in everything we do, from the way we discuss diagnoses and terms to the strategies we share with our clients; it’s the entire vibe of our work.
Doctors tend to catch people at the end of the line whose bodies have broken down in one emergency or another, or over the slow course of a thousand different not-so-great choices. Their go-to strategy is the prescription pad because most people don’t have the time or willpower to change their lives and experiment with eating better or getting outside and running everyday.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also pick up folks on the other side of emergencies and slow breakdowns. But the folks I get are the ones who at least in part, generally want to change. I can create space for them to explore what change will look like for them, what obstacles they anticipate facing, and how they will overcome them because that’s the path they have the interest and willpower in taking.
Having Willpower Isn’t Enough Though
The harsh reality is that entertaining our desire to tackle a big life change like beating diabetes is itself not enough to push us through. As I said before, all big life changes are extraordinarily difficult tasks to accomplish.
In my own journey, I have faced numerous setbacks including relapse into needing medication after a period of remission. No health journey I have witnessed yet as a coach is as straightforward as choosing a direction and simply realizing it.
If I may be permitted one last barb directed at the medical industry, it is exactly the over-reliance on medication my colleagues complained about seeing in their patients that exemplifies the misconception that health struggles will be simple. When our dominant idea of healing is that it is as easy as taking a pill, we are thoroughly unprepared for the reality of a more difficult journey replete with setbacks, utter failure, periods of cluelessness, and disappointment.
Big life changes like beating diabetes are difficult. But that does not mean we ought not attempt them anyway.
On the other side of difficulty is not just the goal we set our sights on, but a new version of ourselves made capable of achieving at that level. Beating diabetes is undeniably a remarkable feat. Becoming the kind of person who gets to ask themselves “what next?” after doing so is a change in self-image we’ve likely never even imagined possible.