Turning the Tide on Lifestyle Diseases – Motivation for change

Dr David Glass - MBChB, FCOG (SA)

Knowledge is not always translated into action.  For instance there are very few people who don’t know that smoking cigarettes is harmful for health;  there are not many people who don’t know that exercise improves the quality of life;  there are few people who don’t know that lack of sleep results in poor mental function the next day, and chronic fatigue.

ALSO READ : Turning the Tide on Lifestyle Diseases – Alzheimer’s: Identifying risk factors and behaviours that affect our brain health

Almost all people know that eating fruits and vegetables is good for health. Yet that knowledge does not necessarily cause people to stop smoking, or start exercising regularly or plan how to get enough sleep at night or eat less junk food and more fresh fruits and vegetables.  Why is there this discrepancy between knowledge and behaviour?

Part of it may be upbringing.  If parents or caregivers don’t model good behaviour, or don’t train children when they are young to live healthfully, it is less likely that they will change their behaviour as they get older.

The norms of society have a profound effect.  If our friends are eating fatty foods, and highly processed foods, and not spending time in healthful activities, we too are less likely to be different.

Advertising and availability also impact our behaviour.  It is known amongst advertisers that we need to be exposed to an advert 7 times before it typically affects our behaviour.  The advert first informs you about the product, but then it keeps reminding you to the point that you will think of that option when you need that product, or if you see it in the shop you will be more likely to choose that option.

If the change needed is drastic, it is more difficult to effect than if there is a minor change. 

For instance, if your doctor tells you to cut out all refined sugar from your diet, you are less likely to comply than if he starts the process by cutting out fizzy drinks, and then gradually moves to less intake of sweets and pastries.

Fear is not a lasting motivation for change.  If you have a heart attack, or are diagnosed with cancer, you may get a real wake-up call, and go on a mission to change your lifestyle.  But after you have become accustomed to your diagnosis the temptation to revert to your previous lifestyle is strong.

Guilt is also not a strong motivator for change.  You tend to want to punish yourself for breaking your resolve – by repeating the wrong habit to punish yourself.

Find a purpose for living.  If you are just wafting through life aimlessly, there is no reason for change.  The principle: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” gives no reason to change.  But if you have a broader purpose for your life, then you will want to preserve it and enhance your capacities.

Sit down with a piece of paper and ask yourself these questions:

Why am I in this world?

What legacy will I leave behind when I am gone?

Who is going to be impacted positively by my life?

If you cannot come up with any meaningful purpose, then begin your search for purpose now.  Religion is all about providing purpose.  You may want to explore that possibility of connecting to someone far bigger and greater than yourself who created you for a purpose and who is interested in you and your future.

ALSO READ : Turning the Tide on Lifestyle Diseases: Managing Alzheimer’s

How important is your family to you?  Many people have found motivation for changing their lifestyle through wanting to be there for their children, or spouse, or grandchildren.  Imagine how important it is for you to be at your daughter’s wedding, or your son’s graduation, or your grandchild’s birth.  Do you want to be able to play with your grandchildren, and tell them stories about your childhood?  Do you want to be able to mentor them through life?

Do you really want to feel better about your life?  Most people feel tired, lethargic, sore, uncomfortable, have difficulty walking, difficulty sleeping, poor sexual performance, etc, etc.  We know that changing your lifestyle can make life a whole lot more interesting and enjoyable.

How do you go about this journey?

Unpack the baggage.  You may have emotional scars that inhibit your self-worth.  You may have struggled with school, or job relationships or achievements and you wallow in self-pity.  You may be in a relationship where you are frequently put down.  Contemplate your strengths – everyone has positives in their lives.  You may need to see a counsellor to help you.

Set reachable goals.  Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”.  Together with writing down your goals, add the reasons why you want to achieve those goals.  If you just want to be healthier but you don’t have a meaningful reason you will not be motivated to reach that goal.  Write down what you want to achieve and why.

Strategise.  What do you need to do to refocus your life?  If you are needing to lose weight, or deal with diabetes or high blood pressure, or prevent Alzheimer’s, or overcome smoking, or start an exercise programme, you will need to make some changes.  You may need to go through your fridge or pantry and get rid of foods that will sabotage your programme.  You may need to take the plunge and join the gym.  You may need to buy some appropriate clothing for your new exercise programme.

You may need to gather some recipes, and purchase ingredients, and plan menus ahead of time.  You may need to plan family meals together at the table rather than sitting eating mindlessly in front of the TV.

Plan the steps.  Break down your goals into daily/weekly interventions.  There is no point saying you want to lose 10 kg but you have no definite idea as to how to go about it.

Engage support.  You may want to involve your partner or family, or find some like-minded friends who can become your buddies.  It is always easier staying engaged if you have a friend to do stuff with, or who can keep you committed.  You will have times when you are tempted to quit, or fall off the wagon.  Your friend can pull you back on.

Evaluate your progress.  It is important that you need to assess your progress regularly.  If you haven’t reached any goals, go back to the drawing board and evaluate what has gone wrong.  Speak to counsellors or experts and re-focus on what you want to achieve.

Journal your journey.  Keep a diary and write down highs and lows.  That helps to keep you on track.

Share your story with others.  Success breeds success.  By helping others you also benefit yourself.  It increases your sense of self-worth.

Here are some useful tips for motivation for lifestyle changes.


For a more scientific approach read this:


When you are planning an expedition – like an adventure into another country, or a mountain climb, or even starting a new hobby, you have to make some fundamental changes in your present life.  There is a great deal of research that you need to do; but there are also many small actions you have to take – get permits, buy appropriate supplies or equipment, plan your time scale, etc.  If you want to be successful at your adventure, you need commitment together with good preparation.

ALSO READ : Turning the Tide on Lifestyle Diseases – Alzheimer’s disease

Your desire to improve the quality of your life and health is possibly the most important intervention you can do – apart from making a connection with your Creator.  You can’t just stay on the level of wishing for change and imagining improvement – although that is a starting point.  It may be helpful linking up with people who have made dramatic improvements in their lives and learn from their experience.  A good place to go for inspiration is to the following website:


Is this thought daunting?  The results of change are so worth it.

To the ability to convert desires and dreams into reality.

Dave Glass


Dr David Glass – MBChB, FCOG (SA)

Dr David Glass graduated from UCT in 1975. He spent the next 12 years working at a mission hospital in Lesotho, where much of his work involved health education and interventions to improve health, aside from the normal busy clinical work of an under-resourced mission hospital.

He returned to UCT in 1990 to specialise in obstetrics/gynaecology and then moved to the South Coast where he had the privilege of, amongst other things, ushering 7000 babies into the world. He no longer delivers babies but is still very clinically active in gynaecology.

An old passion, preventive health care, has now replaced the obstetrics side of his work. He is eager to share insights he has gathered over the years on how to prevent and reverse so many of the modern scourges of lifestyle – obesity, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, common cancers, etc.

He is a family man, with a supportive wife, and two grown children, and four beautiful grandchildren. His hobbies include walking, cycling, vegetable gardening, bird-watching, travelling and writing. He is active in community health outreach and deeply involved in church activities. He enjoys teaching and sharing information.


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Dr Dave Glass

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