As someone who has a chronic illness myself, I understand how heartbreaking it can be when you first learn of the diagnosis.
There are so many thoughts your brain has to try and process and so many unanswered questions. I don’t like surprises, especially when it comes to my health.
For me, not knowing how my disease was going to progress and what I would be up against drove me crazy. I became paralyzed with fear.
Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 855 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.
I would take my medications, but I wouldn’t do anything else to help improve myself. I didn’t want to exercise, I didn’t want to change my diet, I didn’t want to meditate…nothing. It wasn’t until my medication dosages had to go up and I had to think about paying for my own health insurance that I started to SLOWLY change my habits. And, I repeat – this was a VERY SLOW process.
How to be Happy with Chronic Illness
When it comes to living with chronic illness, staying motivated involves changing habits from negative to positive ones. I will share with you what I’ve learned from experience along with what researchers have discovered.
1. Think of Your Future Self
Begin with this thought, “Do something today for which your future self will thank you.” When it comes to many chronic diseases, the – dare I say – good news is that the prognosis for many can be dramatically improved with even just small lifestyle changes.
So, even if you perform just 1 small behavior today that makes you feel better, that’s a step in the right direction. Because tomorrow, you may not feel the physical effects of that 1 small behavior right away, but you will mentally. You will begin to gather momentum – and to use quote Newton’s First Law of Motion, an old cliché – an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
If you can repeat that 1 small behavior again within the near future, it will continue some of that momentum and likely help you feel a bit better about your situation. These little wins can be so important because it often leads to increased confidence which can help motivate you to move on to bigger changes later.
2. Have a Back-Up Plan for “Willpower”
I must mention something about willpower. Far too often, we blame our lack of willpower for our inaction. But, the truth is, willpower comes and goes. Frankly, it’s exhausting to rely on our willpower all the time.
In fact, I probably have less willpower than the next guy when it comes to pizza, French fries and donuts since those are my problem foods. Think of willpower like a muscle – exercising it every so often is a good thing, but too often, and it leads to fatigue from overuse. Willpower operates this same way. Using it every now and then is good, but relying on it all the time will just lead to exhaustion and disappointment.
This is often why, the end of the day is often the most challenging time to try and eat more nutritious foods or fit in some time to exercise. We just spent an entire day using up that willpower muscle at work, dealing with colleagues, sitting in traffic, paying bills, dealing with family issues… you name it. And then we somehow expect we’re going to have enough willpower left to make a good decision when it comes to exercising or preparing a nutritious meal! It’s probably not going to happen – that muscle is spent.
So, we need back-up for our willpower… tricks we can rely on when our willpower is just not there anymore. Which brings me to another famous saying…
3. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
One thing we can do to back up our willpower is to have a plan. The beauty of this is it takes out the guesswork and removes willpower from the equation.
This plan doesn’t need to be complicated. I talk about this more with my next tip.
Researchers have repeatedly discovered that we are more likely to meet our goals when we have a plan. Even if you start small, it will help. So, let’s say you want to begin increasing your physical activity. Pick just one day and decide that you will walk that day for 5 minutes.
Notice, I didn’t say you need to walk for a full 7 days or even walk for 1 full hour. Just pick one day and walk for 5 minutes. Researchers are also discovering that if you write down your plan, write it down somewhere, anywhere, it tricks your brain into thinking it’s real, which in turn, makes it more likely to happen. In fact, I often spend some time on Sundays planning out my exercises for the week — and I write them down!
4. Keep Things Simple
Keep the plan simple for now and consistency will follow. Complexity is the enemy of action. If a behavior is simple and convenient, consistency will almost always follow.
5. Have Patience
Habits take time to form. So, why do we expect to be able to break our habits with a quick snap of our fingers? It doesn’t work that way!
Again, consistency is key. Have patience with yourself.
Understand that you may not see the results you’re looking for right away. But that doesn’t mean good things aren’t still happening!
You can’t see how the neurons in your brain are beginning to change as you begin this journey. You can’t see that by taking a 5 minute walk, you made some of the sugar in your bloodstream disappear and helped the muscle cells in your legs grow.
But, if you stay consistent and have patience with living with a chronic illness, eventually you will feel and see those wonderful effects.