Stop smoking, stop talking, start doing

Everyone is brilliant at finding an excuse not to do what’s good for them.

As soon as you can construct the excuse: “the dog ate my homework” you are blessed and cursed with the ability to create a reason to do or not to do whatever you choose. Say…

Eat a kilo of chocolate in a day… because, you know, my plan is that by making this sacrifice of eating all the  chocolate in the house I will actually become sooo sick of chocolate that in fact it’ll be easier to start my diet tomorrow and it will be a sure fire triumph!

Put off writing your business plan … because I’ve determined that  it would be smarter not to start the actual hard work until, er, after the Summer because, well, for one thing it’s just too hot right now. Not to mention it’s hard to work when the days are so long and look I have to go sorry bye

Spend a whole day watching a box set of DVDs … because while I am committed to my new fitness training regime  the temptation to lie on the sofa and watch TV is more than any human can bear which is why I realised that the smart thing to do (strictly from a fitness point-of-view) is to lie on the sofa and watch all the shows back-to-back so that I have got it over and done with and thus cleared the path of temptation. Tomorrow, I will be superman for sure. Watchout.

Leave the night school alone another week … because frankly I’m exhausted and I don’t want to waste their time or mine. And there’s always the danger that if I go and don’t enjoy it because I’m so tired I may never go again so in the long run for my career and life chances this is the right thing to do. Besides there’s a singularly good party tonight (again just like last week – who knew?!).

Don’t bother giving up smoking … because I’ve been smoking so long already what’s the point?

Well hold it right there. Let’s start with the last one.

Now here’s the thing: No matter how long you’ve been smoking it turns out that within six months of giving up then your life expectancy immediately starts improving.

This evidence comes from a series of trials and studies by the University of Liverpool*. They found for example, that when smoke-free legislation was introduced in the isolated US community of Helena that the admission rates for actual and threatened heart attacks  (acute coronary syndrome) fell by 40% within six months. And as soon as the law was repealed it took just six months for admissions to fly back up to previous levels.

The instant benefits of being good to yourself dont just apply to smoking. Diet also has an instant feedback.

Here’s an example: Coronary death rates, throughout the 20th Century, rose steadily in the UK, US and Western Europe.

But there was a curious blip. In the middle of this upward surge death rates momentarily fell in the early 1940s. The reason: The second world war. Rationing of meat and animal fats meant that the a huge war made some people live longer.

That giving up smoking or eating healthily can produce such speedy results is amazing. When it comes to the life-enhancing benefits of Doing Stuff Now you just don’t get much better hard evidence than this.

And yet the temptation not to start doing what you need to do is ever present. (The powerful reptilian part of our brains always seeks instant gratification and the deferral of work).

Alas, temptation is bolstered by our mental agility to rationalise giving in to it. (Our reasoning brain gets co-opted to support the easy wins of our pleasure-seeking instinct-driven reptilian brain)

And to cap it all, we get immediate satisfaction from the chocolate, the DVD, the next cigarette while the benefits of doing what we really wanted to do takes a bit longer.

But as this study showed, the positive impact of doing the right thing doesn’t always take much longer. So dig deep. Stop smoking, stop talking about doing… and do.


*Research by Simon Capewell, Marton O’Flaherty at Institute of Psychology, Health and Well-being at Univeristy of Liverpool, UK.