Going It Alone: Using Autonomy To Your Advantage

One of the basic suggestions for making new health habits stick is to get others involved. Find a workout buddy, friends to hold you accountable, and so forth.  Some people join a weight loss group or like to join an exercise class.  Others need an appointment with a trainer to make sure they work out.  In fact, getting social support is one of the keys to success when it comes to changing eating and exercise habits.

Fun fact:  Science tell us that there are three basic psychological needs that we all have.  Relatedness is one.  (See above.)  What are the other ones?  Competence, which makes sense because we all love to do things that we are good at. The other one is Autonomy.  Wait a minute!  How are we supposed to be setting up a support group for our health habits, and at the same time, be able to strike out on our own?

You are in charge

Actually, the answer is pretty easy.  You are in charge of yourself.  At least once you are an adult.  As we know, you have to start from scratch with children and make sure they learn the finer points of survival and thriving.  But once we reach adulthood, it’s up to us to make decisions, figure things out, and get on with it. 

It may seem obvious that we are in charge of ourselves, but perhaps not.  Look around.  Our environment is rife with information and misinformation from the media, social media, and advertising.  This stuff is in our face all the time.  There is well-advertised junk food (aka highly processed foods) here, there and everywhere.  We can be influenced by friends, family, and professionals.  We can go down a slippery slope when at a party or sporting event.  Autonomy is not easy!  Quite often the Relatedness part of the Big Three takes over. 

The thing is, it is very good to cultivate autonomy whenever we can.  Here is a short review of some of the advantages to being autonomous in our health pursuits.  Some of these are quite granular and situation-specific.  After all, what is a day but a bunch of situations unfolding all the time?  Let’s break this down.

Examples of autonomy

1.  First, the most obvious one.  You and your body are inseparable.  It is there wherever you go.  Consequently, what you do for your health (or not…nobody’s perfect) is going to affect you and only you.  Even if you go jogging with friends, it is YOU that is doing it, and getting the benefits. What you eat is what YOU eat. 

2.  Let’s say you want to exercise more, but are often stymied by circumstances beyond your control, like maybe the weather.  You can take the autonomy bull by the horns!  When going for a walk even seems like too much bother, you can have a 10-minute workout at the ready.  Learning a 10-minute routine can put you in charge (remember the Competency thing?).  It does not have to be fancy.  Something like marching in place, then a few sets of push-ups using the kitchen counter, a few sets of squats, and then another set of push-ups. 

You can also find short workout ideas on YouTube or an app.  Finding what to do and perhaps writing it down might take you all of half an hour one day.  After that, you are free to be autonomous. You can do your routine by yourself, when you can fit it in. 

3.  Eating is a bit more complicated.  That’s because eating is a much more communal pursuit.  Your family may balk at the changes you want to make.  Aunt Mable gets upset if you don’t eat her special apple pie.  Holidays are for eating! 

Here we get back to you and your favorite companion, your body.  Go for autonomy!  You can explain how you prefer to roll, and do the best you can to roll that way.  People will get used to it.  YOU will get used to it. 

4.  Let’s say you have trouble resisting certain foods.  That makes it easy to acquiesce to Aunt Mable.  Or, that bag of chips in the cupboard.  Super hard.  You may even decide that it’s not worth it to resist.  The pay-off is pretty good.  Fair enough.  Really. 

If, however, you are serious about making some healthy changes to your eating, here’s what you can do:  Figure out some of the easier ways to swap out healthier foods for what you know to be junk food.  Caveat:  That means that you need to be aware of what is junk food and what is not.  Autonomy suggests that you find out!  That puts you more and more in charge of your decisions. 

5.  We started with a broad statement about you and your body being inseparable.  Let’s end with another broad statement.  It’s about self-care.  Notice that it says SELF care, not someone-else-care.  It turns out that self-care can be a great motivator, if you let it.  That means finding out what you deeply value for yourself. 

One last thing:  As I frequently say in my blogs, following a diet or exercise program often doesn’t help you make long-term changes.  Programs don’t build autonomy! YOU help to change you, by figuring out some changes to make that suit you.  And, as I have also often written, making small changes, over time, is going to get you there in the end.  Yes, that involves learning and discerning.  But, that is what autonomy is all about. 


© 2024 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Mapo | iStock

The End of Try Try Again by Kristen Carter MS

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