Using the ‘ripple effect’ to achieve health goals
After a car crash five years ago, Laura Banks sank into a sedentary rut.
But one day, the 32-year-old decided it was time to get her life back on track. Her first step was to start exercising again, and she set her sights on the next Tough Mudder (an extreme obstacle course in mud).
“That one decision was the starting point for all the change in my life,” Laura says.
While working towards her target, Laura developed the self-belief she needed to set other goals. Things snowballed on the exercise front, and Laura did marathons and a half Ironman Triathlon. This, in turn, led to other positive changes in her life.
“Because I was exercising more, my diet changed. I was spending less time sitting on the couch watching crap TV [and more time] meeting new people.”
Her newfound zest for life spurred her on to quit her job and follow her passion to be a life coach. Through that one initial action, Laura tapped into an avalanche of positive effects: one improvement begat another.
Scientist Dr Greg Wells has penned a new book about this phenomenon, aptly titled The Ripple Effect.
In his book, Wells explores how all areas of your life are interconnected, so improving one aspect can have follow-on effects in other parts.
“Sleep better and you’ll eat better. Eat better and you’ll move more. And if you move more, you’ll sleep better and ultimately think and feel better.”
He says you only need to make a “1 per cent” improvement in four key areas to yield “dramatic results”.
Those areas are: a need to sleep soundly, move more, eat smarter and think clearly.
His book is bursting with “Dr Greg’s 1% tips” – each outlining a small change you can make.
“A 1 per cent change may not seem like much, but each takes you, step by step, further along the path to optimal health and reaching your potential.”
Those tips seem simple enough.
They include drinking water first thing in the morning; following the “20/20” rule (for every 20 minutes of sitting, stand and do 20 seconds of stretching), and keeping your bedroom cool at night (about 19 degrees Celsius is ideal for sleep).
Wells also offers plenty of advice on which changes to make.
These include eating vegetables and a healthy protein at every meal; steering clear of sugar; aiming for seven to eight hours sleep a night; aiming for a resting heart rate of 40-60 bpm, and practising daily gratitude.
Of course you don’t need to attempt all those things at once. Just pick a goal you’d like to work towards, and start there.
Because all facets are interconnected, once you’ve made the first change, you’ll reap the rewards in other areas, too.
Clinical Psychologist Kirstin Bouse is a believer in the ripple effect. She says making small changes allows us plenty of opportunity to have “little wins”.
Those wins then give us a sense of “competency and mastery”.
So after ticking off a goal, our belief in our ability increases, meaning we’re more likely to attempt further changes.
To get started on such changes, Bouse recommends looking at your values to determine what’s important to you. If you want to eat better, you could start by adding more nutritious food to your diet. Or, if you want to move more, you could go to an exercise class once a week.
For Laura, the first step was aiming for Tough Mudder.
“Each step I’ve taken has built from that.”
This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald
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