Against all odds

Why matters of life and death are really matters of the heart.

David Servan-Schreiber | March 2008 issue

We all have bad habits, but changing our ways is difficult. Still, in our hearts we’re convinced that if we really had to, we’d find the resolve to do so. For Martin, it was a matter of life or death, and yet… At 50, he’d already had his second coronary bypass. The arteries in his heart were so clogged that a third bypass wasn’t an option. He absolutely had to stop smoking, change his diet and exercise regularly. Without these interventions, he had little chance of survival. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to change. It was impossible to “stick to his resolutions.”
And how about you? Would you be able to? Really? A majority of the people who have undergone a bypass still haven’t made major changes in their habits two years later. If it were simply a matter of taking a pill in the morning, we would certainly do it, wouldn’t we? Again, the answer is “no.” In some studies, two-thirds of the people prescribed a cholesterol-reducing drug are no longer taking it a year later. So what’s going on? What are we resisting?
Martin, a lawyer, was much too heavy. He’d stopped exercising years earlier. After his divorce, he hardly ever saw his children and suffered from the tension of these rather strained occasions. Meanwhile, his workload had grown and he’d given up his evening jazz sessions, playing the piano with friends. His faithful Rothmans and desserts became his last true friends, ever-present, reliable and comforting when nothing else was. Deep inside, he didn’t find the idea of adding more years to this rather dreary life inspiring—at least not enough so to enable him to give up habits that brought him pleasure.
What can make us change isn’t knowing our chances of survival. Who has stopped smoking because “Smoking kills” is printed on cigarette packs? No abstract information about our distant futures can motivate us enough. The secret passage is located in our emotions. The changes we undertake must be such that they make us feel more alive. We have to find more pleasure in changing than in not changing.
Martin changed. He got started thanks to a support group. He began to understand that the faster he gave up what enclosed him in a body he no longer liked, the more alive he felt: no longer short of breath, discovering the mellow intoxication of fatigue after sustained effort, lowering his cholesterol without drugs and finding himself once again the master of his own body.
But the decisive step for him was to reconnect with his children. His family doctor sensed Martin’s yearning to teach his son to play jazz. And to help his daughter set up her Internet site. And to seek a new purpose for his work by becoming a mediator in conflict resolution, which gave him a stronger sense of contributing to society. At the end of three years, with a smile that warmed your heart, he liked to say, “My disease was the best thing that ever happened to me!”
Dean Ornish, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, has shown that heart disease can be cured with support groups that promote meditation, emotional awareness, diet, exercise and smoking cessation. In his book, Love and Survival, he sums up Martin’s discovery perfectly: “The best motivation to change is not the fear of dying, but the joy of living!”
 

Solution News Source

Against all odds

Why matters of life and death are really matters of the heart.

David Servan-Schreiber | March 2008 issue

We all have bad habits, but changing our ways is difficult. Still, in our hearts we’re convinced that if we really had to, we’d find the resolve to do so. For Martin, it was a matter of life or death, and yet… At 50, he’d already had his second coronary bypass. The arteries in his heart were so clogged that a third bypass wasn’t an option. He absolutely had to stop smoking, change his diet and exercise regularly. Without these interventions, he had little chance of survival. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to change. It was impossible to “stick to his resolutions.”
And how about you? Would you be able to? Really? A majority of the people who have undergone a bypass still haven’t made major changes in their habits two years later. If it were simply a matter of taking a pill in the morning, we would certainly do it, wouldn’t we? Again, the answer is “no.” In some studies, two-thirds of the people prescribed a cholesterol-reducing drug are no longer taking it a year later. So what’s going on? What are we resisting?
Martin, a lawyer, was much too heavy. He’d stopped exercising years earlier. After his divorce, he hardly ever saw his children and suffered from the tension of these rather strained occasions. Meanwhile, his workload had grown and he’d given up his evening jazz sessions, playing the piano with friends. His faithful Rothmans and desserts became his last true friends, ever-present, reliable and comforting when nothing else was. Deep inside, he didn’t find the idea of adding more years to this rather dreary life inspiring—at least not enough so to enable him to give up habits that brought him pleasure.
What can make us change isn’t knowing our chances of survival. Who has stopped smoking because “Smoking kills” is printed on cigarette packs? No abstract information about our distant futures can motivate us enough. The secret passage is located in our emotions. The changes we undertake must be such that they make us feel more alive. We have to find more pleasure in changing than in not changing.
Martin changed. He got started thanks to a support group. He began to understand that the faster he gave up what enclosed him in a body he no longer liked, the more alive he felt: no longer short of breath, discovering the mellow intoxication of fatigue after sustained effort, lowering his cholesterol without drugs and finding himself once again the master of his own body.
But the decisive step for him was to reconnect with his children. His family doctor sensed Martin’s yearning to teach his son to play jazz. And to help his daughter set up her Internet site. And to seek a new purpose for his work by becoming a mediator in conflict resolution, which gave him a stronger sense of contributing to society. At the end of three years, with a smile that warmed your heart, he liked to say, “My disease was the best thing that ever happened to me!”
Dean Ornish, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, has shown that heart disease can be cured with support groups that promote meditation, emotional awareness, diet, exercise and smoking cessation. In his book, Love and Survival, he sums up Martin’s discovery perfectly: “The best motivation to change is not the fear of dying, but the joy of living!”
 

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