How much self – discipline is possible?

How do you manage to pay attention to your health day after day?
A heart attack or stroke – such visions of the future burden on people with cardiovascular disease much stronger than on healthy people. Therefore you have much more reason to live healthy and change lifestyle habits, because you have the prevention of secondary diseases in your own hands.

But you cannot constantly be worried, you cannot always imagine the worst-case scenario for your future. Everyone wants to continue living as normal as possible. And to be honest: if you do not suffer from a secondary disease yet, it is quite hard to live every day as if misfortune is lurking around the corner.

I myself have chronic diseases that each individually may have serious consequences and a large part of these consequences I have in my own hands – every day. Especially right after my diagnosis, I was quite worried and I think there hardly is any article that I have not read about possible secondary diseases. The fear of a serious illness was so vivid in my mind, that I was willing to give up many things in my life, to avert the disaster. In the beginning I almost always managed to stick to the plan. But the years went by, my check-ups showed good results and gradually my confidence grew that I could continue to live normally. Admittedly, thus establishing plain recklessness. Here and there, situations where I just went through my strict rules were increasing and a lot of old habits found their way back to me, certainly not doing me any good.

I have moments when I merely think about that I walk on thinner ice than a healthy person. Then again, there are experiences that roughly set me back – a feeling like when you play a game of Ludo and it says: “go back to Start.” Then the fear is back yet again and I think ruefully about how many situations I had missed to take precautions and I start to pull myself together again.

From my own experience, I often ask myself:

How realistic is it, that with a chronic disease – year after year, actually right until the end – one does the right thing day by day and avoids doing wrong?

My solution is the 80% rule, which I have made up for myself: If I manage to make healthy choices 80% of the time, then I’m satisfied. 20% room for mistakes must be, otherwise I cannot do it. Thereby I avoid that I constantly blame myself because I failed due to my excessive demands. Otherwise that may cause you to give up on everything because you think: I cannot do this anyway. Or one is constantly under pressure, because you feel like a deadbeat. This is a way to set a realistic goal: “I want to reach a specific percentage to be satisfied.” Try it out and see if you can stick with it.

How did it work out for you? Submit a comment, we would like to learn from your personal experience.

Prof. Dr. Dorothee Gaenshirt


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