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How You Can Change but My Dad Probably Won't

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The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is what gets my dad through the endless days welding sugarcane harvesters. That's what everybody calls the beer down the pub. Never up the pub, always down the pub. On weekends he tinkers with great hunks of metal then checks in on his mates down the pub. Thoroughly.

The pub is located next to the post office, and until recently, postal delivery was a thing only larger towns had. In my village, if you wanted your mail you had to pick it up from the P.O. Dad was very enthusiastic about collecting the mail, a two hour sojourn peppered with not a little goading from his mates next door.

"Come and have another one, Frankie Boy."

"Mate, you gotta hear what Jocko's sayin' about his wallaby stuck in a thunder box."

This is Australia. Beer drinking down at one's local watering hole is an integral pastime for many. One's pub full of mates is the north from which many a compass is set.


The tradition is certainly hard on the body; pubs are filled with beer bellies, acidified bodies, alcoholism, diabetes, gout, and worst of all, improper grammar. My dad flirts with all of these maladies, and until now, he's fared better than his mates.

He called the ambulance himself. The broken back he suffered some days earlier wasn't the reason. His body was refusing beer, by crikey! -- and food and everything else. And so began a long hospital stay. Drips, tubes, scans and tests, then yada yada yada, Dad had emergency surgery for a hernia that had twisted some internal pipes. Long days bled into long weeks inside an air conditioned hospital room. My dad thought a lot about life and living. Said he looked forwards to playing with his grandchildren who would soon return to Australia after living for years abroad.

The silver lining to this traumatic experience is that my dad has a chance to start over; switch out habits that he knows is not the best for his health. He hasn't had a beer in two weeks, he craves fruit and sunshine and fresh air. Thinking like a betting man, who I'm not, I wonder what are the odds that he will change -- or can change?

How long does it take to form a new habit? The answer is 66 days, on average. I'm obviously an outlier. It took me three years me to learn to close drawers properly.

You Can Change Any Habit in Four Steps

Step 1. What's the routine? That moment you pick up the phone to order pizza, or you're late for the thousandth time, what's going on? What's the cycle of behavior of your habit, from the trigger to the reward?

Step 2. Experiment with alternative rewards. Is there a healthy alternative to the reward you are trying to change? If you order pizza to comfort your feeling of stress, can a hot bath or a ten minute yoga stretching routine also relieve your stress?

Step 3. Isolate the Cue. There is a trigger for every habit. Tiredness could be why you don't feel like cooking dinner, and instead you order pizza. Fear or insecurity could be why Fred is habitually late for work.

Step 4. Have a plan. Create an alternative plan to break the cycle and create change. Do you order pizza because you're tired? Then increase the quality of your rest. Switch off all mobile devices an hour before bed, take a hot bath, or go to sleep earlier. Speed nap during the day. What ever the alternative is, it has to feel special.

It's been proven that if you exercise as infrequently as once a week, you will naturally change unrelated patterns in your life for the better, such as smoking less, eating healthier, and increasing your productivity at work.

Status Quo

So as a betting man, who I'm not, I'm going to say that my dad is unlikely to change too much. He'll probably drink one less here and there, his mates would support such a drastic change considering what he's gone through. In my dad's eyes, giving up beer is to give up a way of life in his small fishing village; give up his mates, the rotten jokes, and his professional network. No less than all of the village's tradesmen negotiate contracts between each other down the pub.

But you can do it; in spades you can!

Plan A: Start a little exercise routine. Now, what change would you love to make?

Australian colloquial sayings brought to you by Fosters, the stranger beer!


Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.