My moment of truth happened a few weeks ago. Right around my birthday.
I looked at myself in the mirror and I wasn’t exactly thrilled by what I saw.
Years of leading a sedentary lifestyle and a love for ice cream had clearly caught up with me. As I closely observed my mirror image, I knew that I had let myself down. My inner voice -which is much wiser that I am- couldn’t take it any longer and yelled:
THIS ISN’T ME!
My pants felt too tight around the waist. My muscles were not as toned. My breathing had become shallow and my energy level was way down. Worst of all, the state of my body had started to affect the state of my mind, and not in a good way.
Life’s greatest disappointments are usually very well planned, and this was no exception. I was staring at the result of years of carefully executed sluggish behavior; a sequence of deliberate poor choices and compromises. Too often I had chosen the easy way out, until the easy way became the hard way, and a comfortable lifestyle became annoyingly uncomfortable. Now I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without panting.
It was pathetic!
We’ve all been there in one way or another, harboring unhealthy habits, engaging in self-destructive behavior, small things that add up and get out of control. Some people give in and eventually give up.
The question is: Can an unhealthy pattern be broken and replaced and if so, how? Or was I doomed to stay out of shape?
The way I see it, if you’re in my shoes, you have two options:
You either make excuses or you make changes.
That sounds like a slogan from a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s easier said than done. So, let’s examine a couple of factors that may help or hinder change:
1. If you don’t feel you have a problem, there’s no reason to search for a solution.
This is a source of frustration in many relationships, personal and professional. One party thinks the other needs to change. The other party appears to be clueless or believes nothing’s wrong.
Here’s the thing. As long as you are convinced that a certain behavior is (socially) acceptable, why give it up, especially when the perceived benefits appear to outweigh the costs? In a world of instant gratification it is quite common to choose short-term “rewards” over long-term benefits. You only live once, right?
In the society I live in, things like overeating and overspending are not only acceptable, they’re actively encouraged. Happiness is on sale in the frozen food section. In my case, it comes in the shape of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy.
Need to relieve some stress? Grab a candy bar! Feeling tense today? Take out your MasterCard® and buy something you don’t need. You’ll pay for it later, but for now it feels soooo good!
How far do things have to go, before it’s too late?
2. As long as you keep on buying into your own excuses, there’s no motivation to change.
Excuses are like old tapes, playing in the back of your head. You know they’re a bunch of baloney, but they feel so warm, fuzzy and familiar. Some of the reasons why people think they can’t change sound almost plausible:
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“People just have to take me the way I am.”
“Change is hard and takes a long, long time.”
“That won’t work for me. I am special.”
“I’m too busy trying to make a living.”
I prefer to call those ideas disempowering beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not, but as long as you hold on to them, you’re like a chained elephant. They prevent you from moving forward. They seduce you to focus on the impossible and prevent you from contemplating what’s possible.
What people conveniently forget is that they are the owner of those tapes. Inside, they might sound like the voice of their unloving father, dominant mother or most feared teacher. But if you keep on holding on to old crap in your house -crap that doesn’t even belong to you- there’s no room for change.
Here’s what’s hopeful. By playing the same old tapes loud and clear, you’ve proven that you have a vivid and powerful imagination and that you’re quite persistent. Why not use that power to imagine something that’s positive, uplifting and supports your growth?
Or is there something to gain from holding on to the past?
3. You have to separate consequences from causes.
I’m not asking you to agree with the following. All I ask of you is to keep an open mind. Please remember that my remarks do not refer to the criminally insane but to ordinary, mentally sound people who can be held responsible for their own actions.
In my opinion, things like overeating, lack of physical activity or overspending are problematic behaviors but never the real problem. They are the consequence and not the cause of something deeper. In the West, we have become really good at treating symptoms and ignoring causes.
We’d rather build dikes to protect us from the rising sea level, rather than do something about global warming. Most health insurance policies don’t cover preventative care but kick in when the damage has been done.
Lasting change takes place when you treat the cause and not the consequence.
4. Separate behavior from intention.
In a strange, twisted way, unwanted behaviors are trying to give us something we want. Take procrastination. By putting something off, we buy ourselves some time and quite possibly, peace of mind. If we were to focus on the positive intention behind the ineffective behavior, the question becomes: In what other ways could we achieve peace of mind, and get things done without delay? That way, the attention shifts from fixing the behavior to acknowledging and honoring the underlying intention.
Habitual overeaters are obviously hungry for something. Is it really the food they crave, or are they trying to satisfy a deeper need? What if we were to find that deeper need, and teach that person to satisfy it with more healthy things than an overdose of food? You can throw any diet at someone, but if it doesn’t feed what they’re truly hungry for, people are likely to fall back into their old, familiar ways.
5. Change the behavior. Accept who you are.
For me, the time had come to take a good look at myself because I didn’t like the “me” in the mirror very much. I felt that I had betrayed my body and it made me angry.
It’s quite common for people who are stuck in not so positive patterns, to beat themselves up over it and make matters worse. Add a dose of shame and guilt to the mix and you have a recipe for depression. Here’s what changed things around for me.
Even though we tend to judge people based on their behavior, I strongly feel that we should not merely be defined by what we do but by who we are.
There’s a big difference between: “I just did something stupid” and “I am stupid.” The first statement qualifies behavior. The second is a statement about identity. It’s a gross and unhelpful generalization.
Doing something that isn’t very good doesn’t make you a bad person per se. It just means that you didn’t tap into the resources yet, to effectively and healthily cope with a challenging situation.
As soon as I realized that, I stopped calling myself negative names that were based on my behavior. Then I had another insight:
As long as I was in the driver’s seat, I could change where I was going.
6. Find the right resources and put a plan in place.
Looking at our (agri)cultural history, I can only come to one conclusion:
People are gold mines.
Humans can compose heavenly music, design glorious buildings and write moving poetry. We can turn a desert into an oasis and create a world of abundance.
In spite of possessing a dark side, I believe we are born with positive potential, but like a gold mine, the treasure might be buried deep underground or sometimes it is overgrown with weeds.
There’s no shame in asking for assistance to unearth what lies beneath the surface. But before you start digging, you’ve got to believe that it’s there. And sometimes you’ll find it very close to home.
My recipe for getting back into shape is not earth-shattering:
Move more. Eat less. Use fresh and mostly organic ingredients.
I dusted off my hybrid bike and got back in the saddle. I also signed up for a three-year gym membership and started working out.
In a matter of weeks, I could already feel my old energy coming back. It was as if a dear friend had returned. Of course it will take a while before my mirror image will reflect the changes, but that’s okay. The all important first steps have been taken.
One last thing.
You didn’t really think this story was about me, did you?
Good! Now, let me ask you this:
What weight have you been carrying with you in your career or personal life?
How have you responded?
Are you still coming up with excuses, or are you ready to make some changes?
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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