In this series we have seen how the power of how we think can affect our health for good or bad.
How then can we do the hardest thing of all and change how we think about ourselves and so what we do?
I think that we can look at the work of Alcoholics Anonymous and the work of Dr Jonathan Shay with Vets for a set of principles that might then underpin how we might use Social Media to transform health. For I think that the latent power of Social media may be the perfect fit and may allow us to make much greater progress than would have been possible without it.
The Heart of AA and Shay’s work is the Trust that comes from being in a community of True Peers. As Alan Deutschman has learned, only a tiny few of us will act on technical advice. A Vet will only really trust another Vet. An alcoholic another alcoholic. So the starting point is not to be advised BUT TO BE HEARD by a person who is empathic – who understands you and who will not judge you. Not because they are good people, but because they have walked in your shoes.
But even before this first step of being heard – there is the hardest step of all – the personal decision to get help. Each of us on our own has to be ready.
Most of us are not. How many of us would like to eat better or be more active – but give ourselves excuses for not doing anything. “Life is too short to give up bread or beer”. “My life is shit and this food makes me feel comforted” “Next Year!” There is also huge peer pressure to not change. We must use the power of a new community to offset the power of the old one. Not just to make the change but to keep it. For those that are close to us, often don’t like the new you. You fat family, feel that your health and thin frame is a rebuke to them. Your sober wife who has used your drinking as her excuse too now finds herself exposed by you being sober.
Without the ongoing new community – the gravity of the old can pull you back.
This is why AA also offers you the opportunity to give back as a mentor. If you have been through the complete 12 steps, you can now help others. And by helping others, you in fact become even more attached to your new community. When my wife’s uncle was dying, his 2 best AA buddies were at his side – faithful until death.
So we return to Alan Deutschman who uses 3 words to describe the framework for real change:
- Relate – You only feel safe enough to make real change if you really trust another person. For Early Adopters this may be information itself that you trust. This is what happened to me when I met Michael Rose. But I am an oddity. I was ready to change and had a lot of motivation and I am one of those odd folks who always changes a lot. But most people need more than information from a person they trust – they need to be heard by a person they trust and they need to witness the story of that person who have made the change before them. Then they can receive the information
- Repeat – Real personal change takes years. It takes the establishment of new habits. For it is the establishment of a habit that rewires the brain. Changing your palate is a new habit. As a youth I drank coffee with 3 sugars and cream. It took me a decade to lose the taste for sugar in my coffee. Think of drink. No one starts by being able to drink a bottle of Scotch. We build up to this. We rewire our mind and our body to tolerate it. So stopping will hurt. So, bottom line, real change is evidenced by new habits. New habits are new actions and new responses. They take time to wire. But wire they do. Our brains set up new and deep pathways. Old triggers that would have taken us to the fridge or the bottle now take us somewhere else.
- Reframe – By following this process, we change our reality. We immigrate to a new world. The reframing comes late in the process. Not at the beginning. The idea of America pulled 50 million people across the Atlantic in the 19th century. But the immigrants had to wait for their kids to grow up in the new culture to become Americans. No Israelite who had been born a slave coud enter the promised land – not even Moses. Ideas do not change us – living the new ideas changes us – over time.
I think that that these principles can guide us to design the community and the supports that we all need to help each other on this journey. I suspect that Social Media will be a great help. But I am also convinced that we all will need a strong face to face component as well.
I would love to hear your views as to what you think will help.