10 Critical Steps for a Personal Transformation
In April 2023 I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. A HBA1c* of 42 – 47 puts you in the Pre-diabetes range.
HBa1c of 48 > puts you in the Diabetic range. I was at 45.
* HBA1c (Glycated hemoglobin) = a form of hemoglobin that is chemically linked to a sugar.
I am 53 years old. I am 5’10” and weigh 89.9kg. I exercise every day at the gym or by running 4-5 miles around my home vicinity. I am ‘slim boy fat.’ Slim on the outside but fat around my organs. My diet is poor. Alongside the nutritional main meals of the day, I snack – crisps, chocolate, late night cereal, cheese! oh boy, I love cheese! All processed, high calorie, high sugar foods.
The news scared me which is useful for personal transformation. Fear can be a good motivator. The news was the wake-up call, the burning platform, the call to action, and the fear was the fuel.
I am a Partner at Arcadia Consulting – experts in organisation transformation and change, specialising in the human element of that change. We enable individuals and teams to adopt a resourceful mindset for change, equip them with skills and tools to execute the change and transform culture and behaviour. I should be able to crack this pre-diabetes…no problem!
There are traditionally 3 motivators that we see coaching organisations and change management gurus refer to when considering a big change:
1. Burning platform
However, my experience in the last 12 weeks highlighted that these 3 things, or the news and the fear are not always enough. Similarly, in organisations, the market condition and the risk are not always enough to drive change.
These 7 additional motivators have been critical for my personal 12-week transformation:
5. Big Goal – Micro habits
6. Environment and context
7. Purpose, Identity and Self-Love
8. Chatter and Inner dialogue
10. Measurement, Patience, and Perspective
Tell people you have pre-diabetes. By doing so you get empathy, support and understanding. At parties (and there were many), you don’t get asked ‘do you want some snacks?’ or ‘have another beer’. Instead, you get support and light-hearted humour about ‘missing out’. That is much better than keeping it a secret, getting bombarded with temptation, and being asked ‘what’s wrong with you!’.
Telling people also shifted me out of denial and towards acceptance a lot quicker than keeping it to myself. It also appealed to my sense of accountability.
“I’ve told them now, they’ll expect change, and if they don’t see it then it can’t be out of ignorance but instead my choices… so my fault… so ‘if it’s to be it’s up to me’”.
5. Big Goal = Micro Habits
“My goal is 80kg and my strategy is to go on a diet because I’m pre-diabetic”.
There it is… the goal, the strategy, and the burning platform. So, it should be easy then? Nothing changes without behaviour change. Behaviour happens in moments, small moments in time when choices are made.
I identified small daily habit changes. One piece of toast with two eggs for breakfast rather than the usual two pieces of bread and butter. No cereal. No crisps. A small dark chocolate bar 3 times per week rather than my previous habit of one a day. I travel on the train regularly and as I take the stairs onto Platform 2 of Stockport station there is a WHSmith and Starbucks. I now immediately walk to the end of the platform to take myself away from temptation.
Goals can be too big. Micro habits are easy to notice (have I done them or not), repeat (consistently and frequently) and record/reflect (write down in my journal). All of which drives accountability.
6. Environment and Context
The cliché is ‘it’s not the flower that’s the problem. It’s the soil, light, environment’. Cliché or not, it’s right.
My bad habits showed up when I was:
- Tired. Poor discipline and a sense of ‘I deserve this’, whether I was travelling by train or stopping at service stations when driving home.
- At parties and social events with bowls of snacks and crisps within arm’s reach.
- Being told by family ‘you really shouldn’t’ have that food’, when they themselves were eating it! (Especially after a long day when it felt as though I deserved it more than them!).
- If I were alone, bored, and everyone had gone to bed. Nobody will notice if I have some chocolate. On some occasions, I had eaten a whole chocolate bar, and then on the way back from the gym in the morning bought a new one to replace it so they wouldn’t suspect anything!
Understanding the environments and context helps you to:
- Change the environment, e.g. remove the bad food from the environment or work away from the fridge and cupboards.
- Avoid the context. Fill up with petrol in advance or keep busy to avoid boredom.
- Plan and develop other strategies e.g., pre-preparing food for long car journeys.
“If you don’t create and control your environment your environment will create and control you.”
– Marshal Goldsmith
7. Purpose, Identity and Self-Love
Will power isn’t enough. When I’m tired or have a drop in self-esteem it is the habit (implicit memory) that wins.
I spent some time articulating the ‘why’ and the purpose of my transformation. It’s easy to say ‘because I might die if I get diabetes’ and that may be enough, but it wasn’t for me. I needed a ‘move towards’ motive rather than a ‘move away from’ motive. I needed a ‘who am I’ affirmation. ‘I am a healthy, dynamic person’, ‘I am disciplined’, ‘I am strong on the inside and out’, ‘I am leading a fulfilling active life when I am 80 years old’.
As I alluded to earlier habit change is about decision change. Again, I noticed in the moments that mattered I made some poor habitual implicit choices that halted progress. This may sound weird, but I decided to carry around with me a medal I had received for running the Yorkshire Marathon in 2017. It symbolised a time when I was proud, disciplined, loved, and healthy inside and out. At the difficult ‘decision moment’ I held the medal and asked myself a couple of self-love questions. Do you respect, love, and like yourself? Would your future self (in 2 minutes or 2 days or 2 years) respect, love and like yourself?’. Maybe these questions are just habit interrupters, turning on the explicit memory system to make conscious decision vs. unconscious habits, but I found them helpful.
There is a concept in psychology that the beliefs you have about the world, situations (and in my case, food choices) can only impact you when they interact with the unresourceful beliefs you have about yourself.
8. Chatter and Inner Dialogue
I am fully aware of the concept that ‘the brain cannot make sense of the reverse of something’. For example, if you were to say to yourself, ‘Don’t think of a pink elephant’, the brain has no choice but to think of it.
When we think of it, our attention and focus is drawn to it. As an example, skiers are aware of the risks of saying ‘don’t hit the trees’. They focus, and as such their skis often then turn towards the trees and ‘BANG’!
‘Don’t eat chocolate’, ‘don’t eat crisps’, ‘avoid sweets and sugar’! My brain was full of this chatter. As such, more crisps, chocolate, and sweets were brought to my attention. I couldn’t stop seeing them EVERYWHERE – on the hairdresser’s countertop, in TV advertisements, clutched in people’s hands whilst walking the dog…
Interestingly when your brain, eyes, and ears are focused on chocolate, it’s harder to see healthier alternatives. I’d be walking through Liverpool Street Station and all I could see were bad choices.
‘Eat healthily’, ‘eat fresh food’, ‘enjoy flavorsome salads’ – this chatter literally enables me to see healthy options. Listen to your chatter.
Enlist the help of those closest to you. In my case my wife orders the shopping. She stopped buying crisps, Walkers Sweet Chili Sensations to be precise, and bought more fruit. I know fruit is sweet and contains sugar, but it is not processed and also contains fibre.
Talk about the journey, the difficulty, the progress. I found that there is value for all parties to be had. Not just value in relation to health but also intimacy, vulnerability, shared joy when talking about the journey together.
Much of the content of the conversations had transferable attitudes or behaviours that could be applied to very different contexts such as work, parenting, and social life challenges.
“You are an average of the 5 people you spend time with.”- Jim Rohn
This means you are either being dragged up or dragged down by these 5 people and equally you are pulling down or building up those around you.
10. Measurement, Patience, and Perspective
Measurement is the ultimate accountability. It can reward you with dopamine and stress you with cortisol depending on expectations. I had a great start – I lost 3 kg’s in 10 days, but then nothing. No movement for 4 weeks despite continued good behaviour. This for me was the hardest period. It was the ‘I deserve a treat because I’ve worked hard’ period.
Measurement is key but the reward system should be based on the activities. I chose to feel good, congratulate myself and reward myself with a little dark chocolate for doing the right things even if the results weren’t showing up on the scales.
When learning to juggle the advice is always to ‘focus on the throw and the catch will take care of itself’.
Transformation doesn’t realise much value unless it’s sustainable. As such there is an acknowledgement that this personal transformation has no end date, no planting of the flag or finish line.
A healthy person or organization needs continuous work. Now is a moment to celebrate progress but no victory salute. To sustain the behaviour, I will need to ‘hardwire’ the new identity, let go of the old identity fully, and embed the new habits.
That sounds like culture change to me, something I consult with clients about everyday.