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Integrative Medicine: What if Your Doctor Prescribed Actions Instead of Medications?

Integrative Medicine: What if Your Doctor Prescribed Actions Instead of Medications?

I spend a lot of my time thinking about ways that you can overcome illness and injury, boost your health and happiness, and live a more vibrant and fulfilling life. One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that behavior change and habit formation is one of the most powerful tools we have … and yet it is being largely ignored by medicine and healthcare.

Let’s talk about that problem and some simple ways to solve it.

Build Habits, Not Factories

I think it’s strange that we know that behavior changes like eating healthy, exercising more, reducing stress, and boosting creativity can improve your health (both in the short–term and long–term) and yet most doctors spend their time treating symptoms rather than teaching these behaviors.

I’ve written previously about how forming healthy habits not only prevents illness, but can also act as a method for treating it. For example, using exercise as a treatment for depression. What if your doctor took this idea to heart and prescribed actions instead of medications?

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Imagine how much time and energy doctors, pharmacists, and healthcare providers spend researching drugs, prescribing medications, and making sure that new drugs don’t conflict with the ones you’re currently taking. Compare that to how much time your doctor spends teaching you how to optimize your environment at home and at work to build healthy habits. (Has any doctor ever done this?)

What if, instead of dishing out pills to treat symptoms, healthcare professionals spent their time teaching patients how to act healthy? I’ve written about ways to do this. For example, changing the color of your plate to make it easier to eat more vegetables or using the phrase “I don’t” to make sure that you resist temptation and actually stick to your health goals for the long–term.

These ideas are just two examples out of hundreds of simple tactics that can be used to make behavior change easier. These ideas come from the fields of behavioral psychology, consumer research, and elsewhere (and I’m doing my best to track down as many as possible).

Teaching Actions Instead of Prescribing Pills

There is a shocking amount of unnecessary treatment going on in healthcare.

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As reported in this New York Times article, orthopedic surgeons took an anonymous survey and admitted that 24% of the tests they ordered were medically unnecessary. That article also shared that the rate of doctor’s visits that lead to more than 5 medications being prescribed has more than tripled in the last 5 years.

Some experts believe that doctors feel pressured to do “something” for patients and so they end up ordering drugs and procedures that won’t hurt them, but that don’t really help either. When I hear about stories like this, I feel like plucking my eyeballs out with a fork. Is this really the best we can do? Instead of wasting time and money on unnecessary procedures, why not spend that time teaching people how to implement lifestyle changes?

Regardless of the motivation behind these actions, the evidence is pretty clear. Our medical system is spending a lot of time and money treating symptoms and masking illnesses, and very little time teaching people how to change their behaviors and build better habits.

Integrative Medicine: It Works, So Use It

All of this is not to say that surgery or prescription drugs or medical treatment doesn’t work. Not only do those methods work, they save many lives. But it’s also true that in many cases, these treatments don’t work any better than behavior change. (Not to mention that behavior change is less expensive and more empowering over the long–term.)

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And this is why I’m calling for more integrative medicine — a combination of the best of scientifically–backed ideas from all fields. For many illnesses, research has already shown that behavior change leads to equivalent or better outcomes than medication.  As with most things in life, the right answer is probably a balance of both sides. For example, imagine prescribing a medication for the first 12 weeks (to provide short–term results) while also teaching the patient how to change their behavior, optimize their environment, and build healthier habits over that time-span (to provide long–term results).

It sounds logical, but right now I’m afraid that our system is spending far too much time and money on medications and treatments, while essentially ignoring the power of behavior change. Combining the two can lead to better outcomes and lower costs — everyone wins.

We have science and research that proves the efficacy of behavior change and we have a growing body of psychological tools that make these changes easier to achieve. And yet, the vast majority of doctors continue to spend their time telling people to take prescriptions instead of teaching people how to take action.

I think it’s time to set a higher standard in health and medicine by integrating scientifically–proven behavior changes rather than defaulting to a prescription because “we’re busy and it’s easier” or ordering another test to appease the patient.

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Behavior change works, so why aren’t doctors teaching it to their patients?

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Thomas van de Vosse via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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