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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 12:02 am

What is your “why?”

Remembering the reasons you want better health will keep you motivated

Craig Backs explains his motivation: “I exercise and eat a more healthy diet so I can be a more effective example to my patients, my colleagues and my community.”


I recently participated in a webinar on “motivational interviewing.” Motivational interviewing seeks to identify an individual’s “why” and enable and guide them to act to address that “why,” rather than using other less successful methods to motivate change. For example, if you want to improve your health, ask yourself why you want to do that. Is it so you’ll feel better and have more energy? Is it so you’ll live longer to enjoy your grandchildren?

I’ve written columns that were intended to inform, thinking that information alone would provoke action on health matters. In others, I’ve tried to challenge my readers to try harder: “It takes determination to get to the gym. You can do it!” How has that worked? Probably not as well as I’d like to think.

Despite all the health information out there, and all the challenges from myself and others, there’s still a lot of you sitting around, eating too much of the wrong processed food substitutes and expecting our “health” care system to fix you when you get sick. It’s true.

In this article, I’m going to conduct a bit of a motivational interview with you.

Why are you reading this article? Are you already sick and want to know how to undo the damage already done? Do you want to lose weight and work out to look better for yourself and potential mates? Do you want to live a long time to enjoy your family and friends? Do you see your personal health as an investment worth making for the benefit of your family, your community, your employer or your customers?

I’ve reoriented my professional practice, from waiting for sick people to come through the door for treatment, to looking for opportunities to motivate people to change, to prevent deterioration of health and to lead by example. Now I’m struck by the wide range of behavior of human beings when it comes to prevention of disease and poor health. Setting aside all the available conflicting advice and pitches for various products, diets and exercise videos and equipment, why would someone ignore opportunities to improve their health?

There is an admonition about a certain behavior that goes like this: “If you don’t stop doing that, you will go blind!” To which the response is, “Can I do it till I need glasses?”

Dr. Backs: “My CrossFit ‘tribe’ holds me accountable and cares to ask ‘why’ when I’m not there.”


We are surrounded by seductive messages to enjoy the pleasures of food products that have been designed to hit our “bliss point” for satisfaction. Labor-saving devices limit the amount of physical effort in our work and play. Screen time has replaced our play time. So, why would you change to exercising and eating real food? How many of us, instead, opt for stronger lenses as our “eyesight” deteriorates because we continue our bad behaviors?

What’s a good “why” for you?  What’s a good reason to change behavior that affects your health? Maybe you are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. You might think it is too late, but as long as you are alive, change can make a difference. You may not undo all the damage, but preventing further damage is worth the effort to change. Eating more vegetables and less meat and transfats, while steadily increasing your exercise, will awaken your natural promoters of health.

Here’s another potential “why”: maybe you are vain. If you are vain about your health, we should applaud your vanity! As the burden of health care costs is spread across our society through Medicare and Medicaid and subsidies for insurance companies, we all benefit when our neighbors are healthy. When we act to improve our health, we make a positive contribution to ourselves, our families and our neighbors. By the same token, when we make our health the responsibility of a “system,” we add to the burden borne by those around us.

I will share my “whys.” Starting four years ago, I took responsibility for my health when I was challenged on my bad behavior and its lousy visible results.

Some might say I did it because my trainer “yelled” at me. Maybe in the beginning that was true, but that doesn’t explain why I stick with it. Now I exercise and eat a more healthy diet so I can be a more effective example to my patients, my colleagues and my community. I do it to improve the chances that I will live long enough to see my grandson have children. I do it to feel good, strong and capable of meeting challenges. I do it because my CrossFit class, my “tribe,” holds me accountable and cares to ask “why” when I’m not there. I do it to avoid, or at least delay, the cost of more expensive and painful treatment for disease.

But, at the heart of it, I do it because I want to be a blessing, not a burden, for myself and others. I want to continue to serve because there is more joy in serving than being served. I want to continue to experience that joy.

What is your “why”?

Craig Backs, M.D., of Springfield is a 60-year-old internist, husband, father and grandfather. His Center for Prevention: Heart Attack and Stroke focuses on improving arterial health and preventing heart attack, stroke and diabetes complications. 


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