OPINION: Support and grit are key to making those big life changes

Man and woman in gym

It may seem like a long road, but sticking with plans to improve yourself for the better will pay off, says Christine - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The other day, a particular Tweet caught my eye. It was from a woman I didn’t know, who posted that she was in mid-life, weighed more than 22 stone and was about to go to a gym for the first time.

I thought how very brave she was – and was heartened by the number of individuals whose messages in response to her were encouraging and helpful.

I can’t imagine how difficult it’s going to be as she struggles to make some real improvement in her fitness. But if she sticks at it, the combination of weight loss and increased physical activity could not only improve her mood and health, but literally save her life. It will be a long slog, but I hope she keeps messaging about it and receives good support – because that is an invaluable ingredient in helping us when we attempt to alter ourselves.

Another issue that people often post about is their fight against alcoholism. I always congratulate individuals who write about having been sober for a while, whether it’s been for 10 days or 10 years.

I have a close relative who used to have a major drink problem. Fortunately, he kicked the habit four decades ago, but I do remember how fantastically hard that was for him. He, like everyone else I know who has successfully stopped drinking, did it with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s no accident that the sense of community and fellowship which people garner from AA is a huge factor in their recovery.

I’ve talked about kindness before in this column because I feel it’s vital for all of us to try to imagine what life is like for other people who are suffering, and to do our best to respond to them with encouragement and sympathy – especially when they are planning changes. Quite apart from the help we give them, I firmly believe that when we offer support to others, it enriches our own lives.

I believe too it helps us to be more encouraging of ourselves. So often, we feel we cannot change because we think we’re too old, helpless, hopeless or weak. But through being kinder to other people, including strangers, we often learn to be kinder and more compassionate to ourselves too – and that can give us a massive boost and a sense that we are worth bothering with.

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Making the changes that we know we should – whether it’s weight loss, increased fitness, reducing our alcohol intake, improving a relationship, changing jobs, de-cluttering our homes or whatever – can feel overwhelming. 

But when we have support from others it feels less of a challenge. So, quite apart from sharing your progress on social media, it can be of enormous benefit to talk in ‘real life’ to individuals you trust, like, and feel you can depend upon. This is particularly important when the going gets tough, which it will do, and we all need to accept that.

Some folk harbour the idea that there’s a shortcut which, if they only knew about it, would make things dead easy. Alas, they are deluding themselves. The truth is that magic wands, miracles and soft options are in desperately short supply!

I was reminded of that fact not long ago.

I had written in this paper about my recent ‘big’ birthday. Quite a lot of readers got in touch, and one of those was an old friend whom I haven’t seen in ages as she now lives abroad.

She commented on my picture and wrote: ‘Looking good. What’s your secret?’

I laughed; if only there were one.

Sometimes people want to believe that if they could do something extraordinarily simple, like swallowing a spoonful of cider vinegar and honey every morning, the years would roll off them.

Now, it’s possible that such a strategy might help. Certainly, it probably wouldn’t do any harm. But it’s most definitely not a recipe for eternal youth or we’d all know about it.

So, I said to my friend, that what I’d learned about Positive Ageing was that it’s very complex, but that some of the basics are to:

  • eat healthily
  • do considerably more exercise than we think we need
  • do things that make us feel useful – no matter how old we are
  • have a sense of purpose every day

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what she wanted to hear. She replied: "God, that sounds hard."

Actually, it’s not hard, once you get into it. But it does take effort – as making changes always does. But shaking things up and working to improve our lives can be remarkably energising – and this makes us feel glad that we’ve persisted.

So finally, is there something you could do today that would be a first step towards making the changes you want? I bet there is – even if it’s tiny. There’s no better time to start than now.