By Leo Babauta
There was a time when I was overweight, but didn’t want to admit it to myself. I didn’t feel in control of my health, because I couldn’t quit smoking or eat healthier for longer than a few days, nor exercise regularly.
Thinking about my weight made me feel horrible, so I didn’t want to even think about it.
Of course, not thinking about it meant I never did anything about it. Not facing my problems made it worse, which just made me feel worse. It was a downward spiral, and really hard to stop.
I had the same downward spiral when I was in debt (at the same time in my life, about 8 years ago). I couldn’t pay all my bills, so I would stuff them in a drawer so I didn’t have to see them. I had creditors calling me but I didn’t answer their calls (I knew their numbers on the caller ID). I didn’t know how much debt I was in because I never wanted to open the envelopes, much less add it all up on paper. I’d borrow money to pay bills, then owe more. And I’d skip paying lots of bills, and accrue interest.
It wasn’t a smart way to manage my finances, but I couldn’t stand the thought of facing all of it. I felt bad even thinking about my finances, so I’d avoid them, and think about other things. Of course, this led to me seeking distraction in food and entertainment and shopping, which led to worse debt.
Not facing my debt made it worse.
How did I overcome all of this? I’ll share it here, in hopes that it will help others facing the same problem — or not facing it.
It’s also important to note that if you know someone in bad health (or bad financial shape), they are probably also in denial. They don’t want to even talk about it. How do you help them? I’ll share that below too.
How I Finally Faced Things
So how do you face a problem, so you can work on it, when you don’t want to face it?
There has to be a point when you say, “This isn’t good. I need to do something about it.”
In truth, there usually isn’t just one point — there are many. It’s a building problem, where you get many data points over time — you see yourself in a picture and don’t like how heavy you look, you get a comment from someone that’s less than flattering, your pants don’t fit anymore, you breathe heavy when you try to run for a couple of minutes.
But then there has to be a point where you decide that enough is enough. You start to feel some resolve. You decide you can do something — it’s not insurmountable.
How exactly I got to that point, I can’t fully remember. But I do know that there were several things that helped me:
- Inspiration: Seeing other people with similar situations who overcame the problem — in blogs and magazines, mainly.
- Do-ability: I didn’t think I could lose all the weight or overcome my huge mountain of debt in a day or a week … but having a small step I could actually do was mentally empowering. If I could do something in a day or two, that was doable. It felt like I could take control again.
- Motivation: When I saw that my health problems were going to be an example for my kids, I knew I had to make a change. When I saw that my financial problems were hurting my family, I knew I had to make a change. In both cases, my motivation for change was bigger than myself — I was doing it to help people I cared about.
- Commitment: When I was inspired by others to make a change, I took an easy step that’s actually a very big step — I made a commitment. Making a commitment is actually very easy — you can tell a friend, a child, a spouse, or the world (via social media or email) that you’re going to make a change. Commit not just to “losing weight” or “getting out of debt” but to something specific: “run 3x a week and cut out sweets” is better. So is “make a list of all my debts, then make a payment to the first one”. Those are first steps … you can always “add more veggies” or “make a meal plan” after you get started. But making a commitment is an easy (if a bit scary) first step that will lock you in to further steps.
I have to admit that it wasn’t as simple as making a decision to change, and then continually making progress with no discouragements. Not at all. I would try to make a change, slip up, feel bad, then start again. And again. And make adjustments each time, learning about myself in the process, and over time getting good at the skill of change.
But the first step — facing the problem — was made possible by inspiration, do-ability, motivation and finally commitment.
How to Get Others to Face Their Problems
I firmly believe that you can’t force anyone to change. You can only inspire them to change, if you’re lucky. That’s not an easy task.
If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with health issues, or financial problems, or something similar where they don’t want to face the problem … it’s tough. They probably don’t want to hear it from you.
However, that’s not to say you should throw your hands up and forget about it. You can still help. Just don’t try to force it.
Here’s what I would suggest:
- Never attack — empathize. Never tell the person they’re doing something wrong, or imply they’re a bad or undisciplined or lazy person. Assume that they have the best of intentions, that they would change if they could, but they feel bad about it. Assume that you would feel the same if you were in their position — and try to remember a time when you felt that way. Don’t be patronizing, nor “sympathize”. That’s condescending.
- Inspire. Set an example, and share what’s working for you. Share stories of other people who have overcome problems.
- Suggest something do-able. And do it with them. If you want them to tackle health issues, suggest the two of you go walking after work every day. Just for 15 minutes (at first). It’s a nice way to socialize and bond, but also get active. This is a small step that can be built upon — later you can walk further, or faster, and maybe add some jogging intervals to the walking after a few weeks or months (health permitting). You can also later do some diet challenges. But the key is to make the steps do-able, easy, and social.
- Offer to be an accountability buddy. If the other person admits to not being motivated, suggest that they commit to you, and be accountable to you (email you every day or every week to share progress or lack thereof). Suggest that they set a fun consequence (something embarrassing) if they don’t live up to their commitment to you. Or do a challenge, where the two of you are doing something fun at the same time — a pushup challenge, a thousand-steps challenge, an eat-more-vegetables challenge.
Despite your best efforts, this might not work. You can’t force change on someone. They have to want it themselves. And if they don’t, you can’t make them want it. In that case, you’ll have to back off, though showing concern and wanting to help is always something you can do.
Change is possible. Facing problems is totally possible. You just might need a little inspiration to do it.