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Helena Önneby

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Change is What’s Difficult, Not the New Lifestyle

I changed the way I eat completely and quite drastically a little more than seven years ago. It wasn’t easy. But it was a long time ago. And even if the way I eat today is not nearly as radical as it was from the start it’s still not the “standard” but still very easy to maintain. 

Sometimes I get the comment: “I could never find the energy to live like that”. Or “My life is way too packed as it is to be able to eat like you”. But that’s the thing, my way of eating today is neither more complicated nor energy-consuming than anyone else’s, it was the change that was difficult. 

I heard about Noel Burch’s theory about “four steps to learn any new ability” a few years back, developed at Gordon Training International in the 70s. I recognized the steps so clearly from my own life. 

Every time we’re learning something new; regardless of if it’s about improving our communication, learning a new instrument or language or changing our lifestyle we’re moving through the four steps: unconscious incompetence – conscious incompetence – conscious competence – unconscious competence. 

It’s like learning to drive a car. As a kid in the back of the car you probably didn’t think very much about what the driver was doing in the front seat, you were unconsciously incompetent and just followed along. When you got closer to the age of driving practice you probably started observing the person driving the car and you started to get conscious about your incompetence around driving. When you started practicing yourself you spent a lot of energy on finding the clutch, other cars, pedestrians, gas and break. You were learning how to drive but it took a lot of your energy and attention and you were very conscious about your new competence. But after a few years of driving most of us are driving on autopilot, sometimes arriving at work wondering how we got there. The competence of driving has become unconscious and it no longer takes very much of your energy and attention. 

It’s the same process going through a lifestyle change. Before you learn about food and health, you’re unconsciously incompetent and it’s probably pretty chill being there. But something wakes you up; a health challenge of your own, a book, friends or family or you simply started reading Food Pharmacy’s blog. You’re starting to get conscious about your incompetence in the area. This is pretty uncomfortable, so you search for more information to learn more.

You take in all the new information and you learn, you start applying your new knowledge in your life and it takes quite a lot of energy. You are very conscious about the change you’re trying to make, your new competence, as you search for new recipes, read all the labels at the grocery store, trial and error in the kitchen and you’re readjusting your pallet. 

But the thing is, after a few weeks in this phase things will start becoming part of your new routine. You’ve found your favorite recipes, you know where to go at the grocery store, your new lifestyle is settling. Your new competence is starting to become unconscious and no longer takes so much of your energy.  

That’s how it works, in so many areas. That’s how it was for me in the beginning. And if I were to choose to change my lifestyle and the way I eat again I would probably go through the same cycle again; search my way through the grocery store and learning how to cook different foods. 

If you’re just starting a lifestyle change of your own, I hope that this model can help you. It’s not the new lifestyle that is difficult, it’s the change getting there. Believe me, soon enough you’re in the routine again and you will not only gain back the energy you initially needed to invest, you’ll gain so much more because you’re living in a way that does you good. 

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.

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