After the ball falls for New Years Eve, a multitude of enthusiastic people following recent resolutions leads to a swelling number of gym, yoga and Pilates memberships as the diet and self help books sell like hotcakes. By the February a reported 80 percent of those resolutioners are back home with a new kind of regret, the regret of disappointment. Why is it that with such good intentions, getting fit, losing weight, quitting habits and improving our lives seem so impossible?
You see, it’s useful to recognize that outside-in solutions such as dieting, joining gyms and so on are doomed to fail if, other than your well-intentioned resolve to change, you’ve done nothing to enhance your capacity to either sustain motivation or handle the inevitable stress and discomfort involved in change. Saying this differently: Unless you first change your mind, don’t expect your health goals to materialize. As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.
It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.
The unfortunate truth is that change, all change, entails some degree of emotional friction, which in turn generates a “heated state” we call stress. Whether you’re feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated, fatigued, weak and out of control, or simply bored, emotional friction (stress) becomes the high-octane fuel of failure. When it comes to handling the stress involved in change, many well-adjusted, happy, overweight, out-of-shape people share the fundamental problem of self-sabotage.
What exactly is the resistance that sabotages our lives and our intentions? Essentially, you build self-discipline by willfully enduring the transient discomfort of changing who and what you are. You’re not born with self-discipline; you acquire it. Like a muscle, you need to develop your self-discipline muscle, one challenge at a time. Starting today, instead of reflexively feeling a need to minimize or escape the friction involved in change, recognize instead the need to endure it. Bottom line: Don’t bail!
- Think small. Begin with small successes. Take a look at the habits that are holding you back in life. Find one that’s simple, like, “When I finish this meal, I’m going to wash my dish.” Make a contract with yourself that that dish must be washed. No ifs, ands or buts! Throughout the day, find simple challenges that you make happen.
- Build self-trust. Once you get used to making small things happen, begin to recognize and embrace the truth: What I say to myself is what I do. Remember, to cultivate a capacity for self-trust, you must succeed. In order to guarantee success, don’t challenge yourself with a pledge that you’re not sure you can handle. If, for example, you’re not sure you’ll stick with going to the gym five times a week, then don’t promise yourself. Better to do the best you can than to fall short and wind up jeopardizing your growing capacity for believing in yourself. When it comes to building trust, it’s better to lose the battle than the war.
- Invent challenges. Invent various challenges throughout the day to strengthen your ability to believe and to do. Don’t allow yourself to procrastinate; make yourself finish your paperwork before turning on the TV; decide not to spend too much at the mall. These are all trust-muscle builders, and you should view them as you would an actual muscle. Just as you would do repetitions at the gym to develop a muscle, so too must you get your reps in each day. Like a muscle, the more you workout, the more your capacity for personal success will grow.
- Cultivate optimism. No one’s life is without negatives. The key is to train yourself to focus on the positives. Don’t let insecurity suggest there are no positives. Positives may be eclipsed by a habit of pessimistic negativity, but keep looking: They’re there. If you’re a whiner or a complainer, make a determination to stop whining and complaining (to yourself and others). Pessimists are so used to being negative that they don’t realize it’s a habit. And they don’t realize it’s a choice.
- Develop critical awareness. Living without self-awareness is like driving your car at night with the headlights off – technically, you can still drive, but you will eventually wreck. With awareness, you shed light on your destructive, reflexive habits and thinking and on any self-sabotaging mind games at play. When it comes to self-sabotage, mindless capitulation to destructive impulses is your number one enemy.