If you’re driving on the freeway, do you always stay in the same lane the whole trip? Or do you change lanes when necessary and/or advantageous?
Do you switch lanes when you don’t need to?
Do you give up and go back home when traffic backs up or you take a wrong turn?
Then why do we do that in health?
The Freeway of Health
When we travel somewhere we take the best way, which is typically the way that gets us there the fastest and most efficiently. Occasionally, we drive for the scenery, but most of our destinations are the main point so we pick the best way to get there and go. If you have a ways to go that typically means freeway most of the way then side streets as you get closer. Close trips are typically just streets.
We usually know where we want to go and head there until we arrive. Sure there’s a few wrong turns or some construction traffic from time to time but almost always we stay in the car until we get there.
Health journeys shouldn’t be any different but somehow we manage to treat it differently.
Four patterns emerge:
- The Sticker – people who do the same thing over and over, even when it doesn’t work or stops working for them. They pick their lane (diet plan, exercise style, etc.) and that’s where they stay. Even when there’s a road block (results stall) or warning sign (i.e. hint of a problem), these people stay in their lane and don’t adapt, even when just a little lane change might make all the difference in their journey. These creatures of habit plug away and sometimes do well but very rarely end up at the destination. You have to change lanes or make a few turns to get just about anywhere and the lane stickers usually at best come close but it’s more common for them to get stuck in a lane that passes by or circles around the destination and they can’t quite seem to figure out why they don’t get there.
- The Switcher – just like those people in traffic, these are the folks that can’t decide what to do or can’t commit to a health habit for any decent amount of time. They start off on one diet plan and then before you know it they’re switching to another, then weave from one exercise regimen to the next and they never usually get anywhere any faster than those who just pick a lane. They also have a hard time achieving goals because they don’t stay in a lane long enough to see if it’s working and they often miss out on their destination because they’re so consumed with trying out the latest thing they haven’t tried yet. They are always thinking the other lanes move faster than the one they’re in. When things get too crazy they might even turn into…
- The Side Streeters – the people looking for the tricks, gimmicks and short cuts. The ones that think they can cheat the system. They’re not going to put in the predictable time and effort known to be associated with health travel. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of things offering the promise of health shortcuts and special boosts. Side Streeters often live frantically, one shortcut turn (supplement) after another (exercise dvd) and more often than not get caught up in unexpected traffic, stuck at lights or running into dead ends that force them to turn around and often start over, while still looking for the sneaky little path that no one else has figured out yet.
- The U Turners – these are the people that are always getting off path and stopping, turning around and giving up the journey when traffic gets too heavy or stressful. They often start off with the best intentions but don’t do well when faced with adversity on the road. It’s just not worth the time and effort to keep going and suffer through when it’s easy to turn around, go home and postpone the trip for another day. Not a terrible idea when there’s a freeway closure and your gas gauge is low (i.e. starting a diet before Thanksgiving) but if these same people are using a minor fender bender and a dirty windshield as an excuse to turn around and give up then they never end up getting anywhere.
So which one are you?
Are you a lane switcher? Always jumping here and there? Taking chances. Maybe crashing or causing traffic in the pursuit of getting it just right…
Are you a lane sticker? Stay put and wait it out? Nice and easy, no thinking involved and safe but missing out on possible gain elsewhere for the ease of the same way…
Are you a side streeter? Getting out of the box? Headed for the unknown, which may be brilliant or backfire big time…
Or are you a U-turner? Stopping whenever things bog down. Never wasting time fighting traffic but then never getting anywhere because there’s always traffic where you want to go…
Personally, I’m a little more of a weaver. I’m always finding new and interesting approaches to diet, exercise and lifestyle and am fascinated with them all. Subsequently I often bounce back and forth between things or move onto the next before I given each fitness or diet lane it’s fair drive.
It’s easy to be any of these and often people are hybrids of a couple health driving types or spend periods of their life as one only to morph into another later.
None of these are inherently better than the other and each has it’s share of both positives and negatives. They key to becoming a better navigator is to acknowledge who you are and see where you can improve your driving approach.
If you’re a Switcher and things aren’t progressing proportionate to your effort, then stop changing lanes so often, try things out for a little bit longer. Just because there’s a stall in a lane of traffic doesn’t mean it won’t clear up a mile down the road.
Side Streeters often just need to get back to the basics. Hop on the main freeway and see where that takes you. It works to get you mostly there almost every time.
U-Turners just need to have faith. Nobody likes long journeys, traffic, road blocks and flat tires. But if you want to make changes in your health it’s a drive you need to keep making, even when things get a little uncomfortable and make you want to turn around.
If you’re a Sticker and things aren’t progressing for you then think about changing lanes. If you’ve been in the running lane then maybe the cycling lane would help, or the swimming lane. If that whole cardio freeway isn’t helping you get anywhere, get off and hit the weight training or yoga interstate. And vise versa.
The One Road Problem
Many of us also get caught up in thinking that there’s a best freeway to get somewhere. There’s not one absolute road that we all must take. There are many ways that all head in the same direction. Similar to the above exercise example, there’s glaring examples in diet. Low carb people often think that the carb counting freeway is the only way to lose weight. If the slow “just cut back a little on carbs” lane doesn’t quite do it, then they change lanes to the middle and cut those carbs even more. That doesn’t work, so they move over to the Keto fast lane. What if that doesn’t work? Nowhere left to go.
Vegetarians get caught up in this too. After progress dwindles with limiting animal products, they move over to the vegan lane. When that doesn’t work or progress slows down the raw vegan macrobiotic fast lane starts getting their attention. More often than not, if all the other lanes on a particular approach aren’t working for you the answer isn’t to do it more extreme.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the answer is to move to the middle and fast lanes but usually when a freeway stops being a good option time after time, benefit can be found on a parallel road that is heading in the same direction.
We also need to stop judging people for their road and lane choices. If they want to see what the CrossFit or spinning road does for them, even if you got in an accident on it, that’s their choice. If the slow lane helps people get there and keeps them moving in the right direction, it’s not our job to tell them to get in the fast lane or that their freeway is going to kill them. We can share our experiences but let’s withhold the judgement from the health driving platform and let people drive their own cars and choose their route.
Your Health Journey
The whole point here is that the health journey is not too dissimilar to what most of us do every day (particularly here in southern California). We all have an idea of where we want to go and a style in which we typically like to get there. It’s not always easy and often comes with a set of circumstances that challenges our creativity, patience and resolve. The better we can get at identifying our navigation challenges the better chance we have at getting to our goals quicker, more efficiently and more enjoyably.
Find the roads that work for you, change lanes when you need to, get off when it’s time and don’t give up.
Thanks for reading, have a great trip!
P.S. Find a partner or partners in your journey and use the carpool lane.
Waze is like health experts – sometimes they can be very helpful but don’t always lead you in the best way. When they peddle their material and goods, keep in mind that their side streets aren’t always better than sticking to the basics.