Looking for 1% milk

A couple of researchers wanted people to eat healthy. After they looked at all the things they could do, they decided to encourage people in two towns in West Virginia to buy 1% or skim milk instead of whole milk.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, who tell the story in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the two researchers built a media campaign around that simple change. They showed that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon. They showed the amount of fat in other ways. And they said, “Buy lowfat milk.”

Before the campaign, less than one in five gallons of milk people bought was lowfat. After the campaign? More than two in five.

I love that story. But I have to work to understand how it works for me.

These two researchers were working with physical formation, helping people be more healthy physically. My day job is working with spiritual formation, helping people be more healthy spiritually. More particularly, I look at the kind of spiritual health that comes from living alongside Jesus. (It’s what I write about all the time at 300WordsaDay.com).

And I’m wondering what the 1% milk is in spiritual formation?

Every church seems to start at a different place. There are so many places to start, so many questions, so many aspects of spiritual health. Do you start with sin, with confession, with Bible reading, with meditation, with conversion, with evangelism, with prayer, with going to church, with giving, with baptism, with eating, with not eating, with stopping x,y, or z, with starting a,b,or c, with staying away from, with going to?

It all is so complicated. It’s no wonder that people who look at church people and rules and fussiness throw their hands in the air and walk away.

So is there a place to start with spiritual formation that works like 1% milk?

Let’s go back to the milk story for a moment.

If I were a health fanatic, I would get very frustrated with the 1% milk campaign. Changing the milk you buy doesn’t address the lack of exercise in American lives. It doesn’t add vegetables to our plates. It doesn’t talk at all about making good choices or getting plenty of rest.

Those are important concerns. But most people trying to bring about change start with the wholistic, with the massive, with the complete and complex. And in the process, people get confused about which and how many vitamins, about which and how often exercise, about which and how much food groups.

And while we are spending time trying to figure out how to help people understand what it means to be healthy and how to change our lifestyles and all, one fifth of the people in two towns in West Virginia are not putting 5 strips of bacon in every glass of milk.

Rather than starting complicated in spiritual health, what if there were a clear and simple step, one endorsed by Jesus?

Here’s what I’m thinking right now. I’m thinking that the 1% milk for spiritual formation is hanging drywall in Gulfport, Mississippi. (Okay, that and reading 300wordsaday.com.)

Stay tuned.


16 responses to “Looking for 1% milk

  1. Does spiritual formation need a 1% milk campaign or slogan? I’ve come to see spirituality, albeit religion, to be a true personal choice and preference.
    So maybe it’s 1% for some, skim for others, etc.
    Is that what you’re saying?

  2. a very good question, Dave.

    I agree. Spiritual formation isn’t a program or a slogan. It isn’t a purchase, or a product, it’s a process. And there is a significant personal component.

    But I’m looking from the perspective of someone who helps other people grow. How can I do that?

    As I’m writing this post (and doing the thinking behind it), I’m not thinking campaign or slogan. (or trying not to). Instead I’m thinking “what’s one of the best simple steps to move forward.” Once you identify that step (in the case of the milk people it was focusing on lowfat), how do you help people see that step, see the value of that step, take that simple step.

    They knew that 1% milk wasn’t the only thing for health, but they knew it would make a difference with ongoing benefits.

    That’s what I’m thinking about.

  3. Don’t we also need to make people aware that neither of these things (the 1% milk or the spiritual transformation) is a quick fix?

    People are looking for that one thing that will make them skinnier, make them richer, make them sleep better at night. They are reaching all around them for the big answers, but fail to see that it’s a process. Often, it’s a lifelong one.

    1% milk doesn’t make you skinny. Changing attitudes towards food and exercise can. Similarly, believing in God doesn’t automatically make you spiritual. Changing your attitude towards God and what that means in your life can.

    Look forward to seeing more on this.

  4. Sue – exactly right. We’re talking process, long process.

    The challenge, the reason that the Heath Brothers wrote Switch, is that when we are helping people – including ourselves – change, we have to spend some time thinking about how people think, how people change, how people choose. And then help them.

    People want to be healthy. We want it easy. That’s why there are so many ways and methods and products. And when they aren’t easy, we quit. Every time.

    What you have been helping me with this year is simply drinking water. It isn’t everything. I should think more healthy on every level. But if I drink three glasses of water a day (all I can do, better than I did), I will be better off. And if you occasionally remind me, all the better.

    Not everything, but helpful.

    And here’s the thing, about water and 1% milk and God. I may not understand that I believe as much as I do until after I’ve started behaving and someone says, “that thing that you are doing, did you know that’s part of what being healthier looks like? You are further along than you think.”

    And suddenly we realize that we are. And we are encouraged by progress rather than being discouraged by not being at the end.

  5. godsbooklover

    This post is a great follow-up to your previous one, on the “how” question. Both your post and the comments on it point to the fact that our growth comes not only from actions but from motivations for those actions. Which comes first? Boy, is that a chicken-and-egg dilemma or what?

    On the one hand, showing people a new discipline/habit/practice–even a very simple one like 1% milk, or three glasses or water–can lead them to a better attitude and encourage them to do even more for their own health as they begin to understand that this one thing is making them feel better.

    On the other hand, painting them the big picture may lead to a major heart change which compels good practices to follow.

    So I guess we need to keep doing both: talking about the “how”, the heart change, and sharing various “whats”, the simple disciplines to practice.

  6. That’s the balance, Laurie. The challenge with the big picture is that for some of us, it is too distant, too big, too easy to push away until later.

    I’m guessing, even as I write this, that there are personality differences related to how this kind of change words. Some people are inspired (or terrified) by the big picture. Some people are equipped by the next step. The challenge is to offer multiple approaches, especially ones that don’t match us, because they may match others.

    Because, after all, 3 gallons of milk being purchased out of every five, were still whole milk.

  7. So, what I hear you saying is that if I switch to 1% milk, I am allowed to eat five strips of bacon each day. Sweet! I love me some bacon!

    PS I do believe there are real world religious/spiritual applications to my response.

  8. I am a big picture gal. I like to know where I’m going and why, before I start – even for something as simple as listening to a sermon or lecture – let alone making life changes. It’s hard for me to follow, if that info isn’t up front. I realized that in college lectures. If I really trusted the speaker, then I could follow better without knowing where he/she was going. I like to see it all in front of me, and then choose which step I think will work best for me.

    Bummer for me that God often does not see fit to share that big picture with me as soon as I would like. I figure since He made me, he probably understands my frustration and wants me to learn from it.

    I’m all for taking steps, and not trying to change the whole thing (whatever that thing is) at one time. That has been too hard. Much better to start with a piece of the process and get that motivation from smaller successes to keep going.

    If someone gives me just one step, without showing me that big picture – it’s so hard for me to follow – unless I truly trust the one trying to lead.

  9. Jon,

    I think you’re right about the dozens of aspects where a new believer can focus their attention when growing their personal relationship with God. Does it matter where one starts? From what I was taught, it’s a personal journey, it’s lifelong, and you are either growing or you’re not.

    When I decided to start on that journey I made as many of the easy simple skim milk changes as I could. I don’t remember ever making a drastic change, but now it seems the effect of all the small changes has molded me into a completely different person. My family notices it, my friends notice it, and personally I love who I am more and more.

    I think the funniest thing is I actually did switch from whole milk to 1% to lose weight. I protested at first saying I liked the taste. After a few years of the change, now when I have whole milk it tastes disgusting to me. The same is true for the spiritual/lifestyle changes I had to make to grow my relationship with Christ.

    One question though – what is happening in Gulfport?

  10. It seems the first step has to be love.
    So often when a new believer comes along behaviors seem to be the first thing that gets “attacked.”
    When a new believer is encouraged to start discovering the love Jesus has for us, they are irresistibly drawn to him developing a relationship and a changed heart. Many of the outward behaviors like the ones listed above begin to become a natural outflow of the heart, while others take much effort. But, knowing we are loved, we don’t have to worry about failing.
    This may be obvious but seems to be often missed as step one.

  11. Thank you! So glad to have found your blog today. Looking forward to more…

  12. Bill – you are laying out a wonderful description of the gradual, persistent change. This is wonderful. Thank you. And I’ll talk about Gulfport next week. I promise.

  13. Caryn – You are are pulling out the tension between trusting ourselves – wherein we need the big picture or we won’t move, and trusting someone else – wherein we move a step at a time trusting that someone else can see further than we can. Of course, if we always need the big picture before moving, it isn’t trust.

    But frequently, the big picture is more paralyzing than energizing. We see all of what needs to change in us, grow in us, and we sit back down, unsure where to start. Having one step, one thing that allows us to see that we are getting somewhere helps break this up.

    What I see is that I gotta explain more of Switch, more of formation, more of what’s in my head. I’ll try.

    And I see from you and others here that personality is a huge thing in any change project. Because we are fearfully and wonderfully hand made.

  14. Hey Troy, sounds a little familiar, like a conversation last night coming from the sermon on the mount! You are point in the right direction, toward relationship. Do I want to do what someone does or be with someone? I mean, I’m about to go downstairs and sit on the sofa with Nancy. Being with her is far more important that being like her. (And I could explain that more, but…I’m going downstairs.)

  15. I’ve been kicking around a “just 5 minutes a day” approach. With exercise, the focus used to be walk a mile a day (or some arbitrary distance) or do so many reps on the weight bench or situps, etc… At some point the mentality switched to just 10 minutes a day. Who cares how far, just get your heart going and spend 10 minutes a day.

    For some people, a goal like reading through the bible in a year (or 90 days) helps motivate them to get it done. For others, the weight of the goal is the excuse to not bother.

    But just 5 minutes a day… who cares if you ever make it all the way through, just start here and spend 5 minutes a day reading. However far you get is all you need to accomplish. Add to that just 5 minutes a day of prayer…