5 ways to learn from others

Before I lost 100 pounds, I had switched doctors about five times in eight years. Each time my health insurance provider changed – and the company I worked for seemed to enjoy doing it annually – I had to find a new set of health care providers. Because of this, I seldom went for checkups, preferring to wait for an illness to visit. The doctor, seeing me for the first time, would not have much of a baseline by which to judge my health. I’d usually see him for a few minutes, get a prescription for whatever ailed me, and leave. If my blood pressure was high (and it almost always was – remember, I weighed 300+ pounds), I was warned to exercise more and eat less salt. For someone who was not exercising at all and eating a diet primarily composed of pizza, that was a tall order. But the sad thing is that the usual assessment from each doctor was “you are doing fine, just eat less, exercise a little more.”

Then I finally settled on a doctor and went to see him a few times. This was already after I had launched into my 100-pound weight loss regimen, and I was quite proud of myself. I told him all about my success to that point, having lost about 40 pounds. I was convinced that he would lavish praise on me for my success.

Instead, he did what (I think) a good doctor – or mentor of any sort – should do.
He told me that wasn’t nearly enough. He pointed out that weight loss was fine but my exercise habits were poor. He told me that while my blood pressure wasn’t high, I was young enough that it should be much lower. He told me that I was still obese and that I shouldn’t be proud of my “success” – only proud of a good start.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sugar Pond

That was a slap in the face for me. After talking to him, I realized that losing 40 pounds wasn’t enough. I realized that weight loss wasn’t the goal – health was. I started exercising – at first riding an exercise bike, then walking on a treadmill, then running on a treadmill, then running outside. I took the low-carb diet I was on and modified it; I cut out the sausages and red meat and concentrated more on leafy greens, chicken and fish.

I would like to say it was easy, or that my doctor was encouraging.
He wasn’t. He also wasn’t the primary source of inspiration for my journey to health – I was, mostly out of fear. But having a doctor who wasn’t afraid to be in my face and challenge my assumptions about my health helped a lot. Having people in your life who are willing to lose you as a “customer” (so to speak) or as a friend or colleague by putting the truth in your face is rare, too.

Other moments in my life have provided similar slaps in the face: reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad (yes, I know, I know). I was certainly an expert in the earn more, spend more personal finance systems: how to make a lot but never to think about what the end game was (answer should be financial independence) or whether working 15 hour days was really worth that great salary. Kiyosaki at least challenged my assumption that this was the only path I had open to me after starting down my career path.

Nobody likes to hear they are fat, or out of shape, or lazy, or watching too much TV, or spending too much, or working too hard or even dressing sloppily. It is hard to face the truth, and hearing it when you’re not in a mindset to receive it is pointless. But the question is this: why aren’t you ready to accept the truth? Why wouldn’t you want to improve your life? Leave yourself open to good advice. Here are five things to remember:

  1. You are not always right. Most people struggle with the concept that they are not always right, which is odd when you stop to think about it. I understand that I am not omniscient. I also understand that I make mistakes. Yet at the same time, I’m often convinced that “my way” is right and that someone else’s way is wrong. Think politics, for example. It’s hard for most people to accept that their way is not always right. But repeat to yourself: I do not have an open connection to universal truth. The possibility that I am wrong about something is critical to self-understanding.
  2. Listen. Wait for someone else to finish speaking before you start. In fact, wait one breath before launching in. I had a terrible habit for years of finishing other people’s sentences – still do. But I fight it now. Keep your ears open as well as your mind – and that’s hard to do if you are verbally stumbling over other people’s thoughts.
  3. Ask questions. People love to be asked questions. When my doctor criticized my health despite what I felt was a good start, I asked him several questions. His answers reinforced his point even further. I remember one in particular: I asked “well, isn’t this pretty good compared to most other people?” He laughed and asked me if it made the least bit of difference to me whether it was good compared to others or not.
  4. Challenge. At the same time, if you don’t buy what someone’s selling, challenge them. Don’t argue – challenge. The difference, to me, is that an argument is a series of statements. “I like Tuesdays.” “Tuesdays are the worst, I hate Tuesdays – Wednesdays rock.” A challenge might sound like this: “Why do you like Tuesdays so much? Really, what’s the reason?” At least it advances the understanding of what’s being discussed.
  5. Seek out people (or books, or websites, or whatever) with different belief systems. I can tell you one thing from my years writing a political blog – if you spend all of your time around people of one political leaning, read that political leaning’s publications and watch their shows, you’ll have a tough time with the four steps ahead. Expose yourself to other ideas. If you’re an ardent low-carb dieter, read about vegetarianism. If you’re a Christian, read the Buddhist Scriptures. If you’re a firm believer in the evils of Communism, read Ten days that Shook the World. You get my drift.

Keep your mind open to new possibilities… and remember that learning new things is one of the keys to happiness. If it helps you improve your health or your finances or your relationships or your career or your life, too, well, then … schwing! Bonus.  I don’t want to pretend it’s easy – I struggle with these points daily – but being aware of the need to change is half the battle.