August 16, 2021
It’s About Pulling, Not Pushing
By Julie Gregory, Chief Health Liaison for Apollo Health
I’m regularly asked how to motivate a loved one to practice the protocol. That’s much easier said than done. In fact, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not always possible. All of the foundational diet and lifestyle strategies that we regularly use in the protocol are summarized with the Bredesen Seven (diet, exercise, sleep, stress, brain stimulation, detox, and supplements) and can be a huge change for anyone but implementing these changes may be especially difficult for those who are older and who may be more resistant.
Remember being a kid and your parents would nag you about whatever? For me, it was keeping my bedroom tidy which is a bit ironic as I’m quite fastidious now … but it was a process getting there. As a teen, I was always very busy. I had school, homework, yearbook, sports, babysitting, work, friends, etc. I treated my home (especially my bedroom) like a low-rent hotel room. The only time I was there was to dump my bag, change my clothes, and sleep. Over time, the clutter built up. My room was such a disaster that it was poorly serving its function; even my sleep was affected by the chaos. I couldn’t find anything I needed. I was embarrassed to have friends over. I started doing homework in the family room (where I was regularly interrupted) because the desk in my bedroom was buried. The more my mother nagged me about keeping my room clean, the more I resisted. I felt like she didn’t understand me. I admired her ability to keep things tidy and organized, but it was only when her desire for me to have a clean room intersected with my desire to enjoy the benefits of a clean room, did we begin to see eye-to-eye.
Every so often (when she probably couldn’t stand it any longer), she would spend an entire day with me doing a thorough deep clean of my room. As we worked side-by-side, she listened to my pressures and helped me to put them into perspective as we sorted through the accumulated debris to create a functional space. At the end of the day I had clean sheets on my bed; my drawers were beautifully organized; my clothes were systematically hung in the closet; my desk was cleared off and tidied with all of the supplies I needed easily within reach. If it was spring or summer, she’d place a fresh-cut bouquet of flowers from the yard on my night table as the crowning touch. Her nagging never worked, but my mother’s personal example and willingness to work beside me got the end result we both wanted. Over time, I began to emulate my mother’s organizational skills and began to keep my room clean and tidy because it made my life easier.
I’ve shamelessly stolen the title of this blog from a concept originally shared by my colleague Valerie Driscoll because it’s spot-on; pushing our loved ones rarely works but pulling them might. My mother tried to push me (without success) but was able to pull me (very successfully) by both serving as an example and walking beside me. In a role reversal prompted by the circle of life, I now strive to serve as an example to my 83-year-old mother to practice the protocol. If I nag her about eating sugar or starchy carbs, she resists, but when I take the time to demonstrate the strategy by cooking and enjoying a delicious KetoFLEX 12/3 meal with her, she’s willing to try. Below are tips that many other successful care partners and I use to keep our loved ones motivated.
How to Pull Your Loved One Towards the Protocol
1. Inspire them. Serve as an example for the change that you hope to see. Talk about how much better you feel since adopting the protocol. When you are together, embody the lifestyle that you hope to move your loved one towards.
2. Get them on your team. Instead of saying, “Mom, you’ve really got to change your diet,” try “Hey, Mom, we’re both getting older, and we really need to start taking better care of ourselves.” Avoid telling them what to do. This is where we can get into pushing, which is rarely effective. Instead, make the protocol a team sport and work on pulling them along.
3. Understand them. Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. It wasn’t until my mother took the time to listen to my pressures that I believed she wanted my bedroom to be tidy to help me. It’s so important to take the time to understand our loved one’s perspective. For example, my mother had an infuriating habit of eating a piece of candy after a healthy meal. When I pressed her about why, she explained that she had lost her sense of taste and smell decades earlier following a severe sinus infection and she “needed” a piece of candy so that she could taste something. Sweet was the only taste sensation that she could discern, and she said that it helped her feel satisfied. Once I understood this, we were able to find no-sugar sweet substitutes that gave her the same sense of satisfaction.
4. Walk beside them. Break the protocol down into manageable steps. Start with one simple change and stick with it until it becomes a habit before moving onto the next step. For instance, don’t tell just them to start meditating. Instead, find a guided meditation app they can easily access. Download it to their smartphone or tablet. Do the first session together. Prompt them to talk about how they feel after meditating. When my mother was nagging me to clean my room, I had no idea where to start. When she worked beside me, organizing, dusting, vacuuming, and showing me the necessary steps, I got it. Prioritize the most important strategies in the protocol and break them down into baby steps.
5. Reward them. Provide positive feedback when your loved one maintains a healthful change. For example, “Mom, your energy seems so much better when you walk every day.” Another strategy that I use is to compare my mother to her peers that are experiencing ill health, “Mom, I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself. When I see how well you’re doing compared to ____, it’s clear that your lifestyle is paying off.”
6. Challenge them. When I see my mother relapsing, I go back to step #3 and take the time to understand what’s going on. Why is she backsliding on diet, exercise, etc.? Often, I learn that she’s had a negative reaction to some part of the protocol and decided her old lifestyle was better. By carefully troubleshooting (adding digestive enzymes, finding appropriate footwear, etc.) I’m often able to get her back on track.
7. Celebrate them. It can be emotionally draining to be a care partner, whether you’re physically caring for your loved one or emotionally caring for them via phone and/or video calls. That stress is very real but do your best not to let it show when interacting with your loved one. (Consider joining our Care Partner Support Groups to aid in self-care.) Instead, try to celebrate your loved one. Let them know how much you care about them and how proud you are of all of the healthful changes they’ve made. Many of us have been on the receiving end of being burdensome to others, whether it’s because of recovering from an injury or going through a difficult emotional period. Being a burden to someone else feels very different than being celebrated by them. Even those experiencing cognitive decline can sense the difference. When we celebrate our loved one, we strengthen the relationship and further motivate them to maintain healthful changes.
I’ve been privileged to see many adult children and care partners successfully motivate their loved ones to adopt the protocol. I’ve also seen others fail, which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress. If the strategies above aren’t helpful, consider using a specially trained health coach to work with you and your loved one. A health coach can help your loved one find their motivation and assist you both on this life-saving journey. You can find a specially trained health coach near you or one that uses videoconferencing with our Bredesen Certified Practitioner and Health Coach Locator Tool.