I’m going to lose weight.
I’m going to start going to the gym.
I’m going to eat healthier.
I’m going to work less.
January is the time of year when we renew our promises to ourselves. February is when we recognize…again…that we failed to make significant changes. This time felt different. This time I swore I would follow through. This time I planned out my map of success. And yet…here we all are, the same as we were in December, engaging in the same behaviors. Only now, we feel a bit more shame. But so what….right? What difference does it make? What’s a little more shame?
I guess the bigger question is, why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why do we set ourselves up for failure over and over again? I don’t think there is one universal answer to this. I think this sense of failure has a different function for each of us. For some it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For some, it is due to a fear of success or fear of happiness. Perhaps, some of us believe we deserve the experience of shame. I think it is important for each one of us to determine what we accomplish by continuing to set ourselves up for failure. What purpose does it serve? How does it help us, even if it is not in a healthy way?
You are probably thinking to yourself that I am all doom and gloom right now. Well, never fear, there is a bright side to all of this. After all, this is January and I promised myself that I would have a more optimistic outlook on life. (HA! See what I did there? Just Kidding!) While you are figuring out the function of shame, there are things that you can do towards making positive change in your life. The key is to make the changes small, manageable, and concrete!
Create Your Beginning
There is a reason that everyone makes a promise to change in January. January is a clear beginning, a new year. There is something about a fresh start that makes change feel more possible. For some, a new year is not necessary. Monday constitutes a new beginning. For example, have you ever been on a diet and then “cheated” on the diet and figured you would just keep cheating until Sunday because “well I already messed up the week. I might as well start over on Monday.” I know I am not the only one to have had that thought. (Yes, I am looking at you! Don’t leave me standing here all on my own)! So, yes, beginnings make it seem easier to make change. But what if they are also a way to put off change? The reality is that beginnings are whenever we set them to be. Every year school starts on a different day in August or September. It is a manufactured beginning and yet it feels like a fresh start because someone told us that it was a beginning. With that in mind, it is possible for us to decide that a beginning is whenever we choose it to be. If I cheat on a Tuesday morning, theoretically, I can tell myself that my next beginning is Tuesday afternoon. Right?
Manufactured beginnings are not a new concept. A gym that I belonged to has ten-week challenges throughout the year. It is a small, time-limited, challenge/change that doesn’t feel too unsafe or unattainable. After the ten weeks, there was a party to celebrate the accomplishments of the challenge and then a new challenge began. It was an opportunity for everyone to reset, make new goals, celebrate the goals that they accomplished, and try again if they failed to meet the goals they set. This seemed to be a great success and it makes perfect sense. You choose your beginning. A beginning could be the next hour, the next day, the next week. You get to define when you start anew. How great is that? An infinite amount of beginnings allows for a whole lot of new chances. Doesn’t that feel so much better? Not yet? Give it time!
Make the Goal small and attainable
On New Year’s, I have noticed that we all, myself included, come up with these grand ideas of change. The reality is that we are all creatures of habit. Don’t deny it! We like when things are predictable and stable. Change is scary and it makes us want to avoid it, especially when it is large change that we are aiming for. Again, we set ourselves up for failure. So let’s try something new, shall we? Did I just hear you say yes? Perfect! How about we make small, incremental, changes rather then the large ones? Small change is more manageable and less intimidating. Small changes also don’t require a complete lifestyle change! You want to eat healthier, maybe try cutting out one particular kind of bad food at a time (Ice cream? Did I lose you?) until you are at your desired eating pattern. You want to go to the gym after not going for a few years? Why not promise yourself once a week and then build up from there? You want to get more sleep? How about promising yourself that you will go to bed early one night a week? You want to work less, well…yeah…as someone who works way too much, I am still working on that one and will get back to you on that one shortly! (I crack myself up! I hope you are laughing too because change requires a sense of humor!) But seriously, maybe promise yourself that you will go home on time (whatever that may be) one time a week and then progress from there.
Small, attainable changes allow for real, lasting change. But they also allow for mistakes. If you don’t eat well on the one day you told yourself that you would, guess what, there are six other days that you can try again.
Ask yourself who the change is for
Many of us decide to change for the wrong reasons. If you are changing for anyone but yourself, I am here to tell you that you WILL fail (There I go being a fatalist again! But the truth hurts sometimes). You have to make a change because it is something that you truly want. I have worked with so many people who lose weight for their partner or go to the gym because someone told them that they should. Change is hard enough when we want the change to happen. It is almost impossible when the motivating force is to make someone else happy. And guess what, when you fail (and you will), you not only feel shame for failing but for letting the other person down. A double whammy! (Anybody else remember that show? I digress)!
The other question you have to ask yourself is: what will this change accomplish? So many people think that losing weight will lead to happiness. I am here to tell you that it won’t. Harsh I know! But the reality is that you will be an unhappy person in a healthier body. I guess you could argue that that is at least a step in the right direction. However, most people will never get to that point. Want to know why? Because they are unhappy! Because they know that being thin won’t fix everything. And/or they are scared of being happy (it’s a thing) or don’t believe that they deserve it. So before you decide to make change, make sure you are doing it for the right reason!
Forgive yourself when you inevitably fail
Guess what! We all fail. Some of us even schedule our fails…ahem…did someone say cheat meals?! It is part of the change process. But the key to all of this is not allowing shame to seep in and derail you. Life happens. Change is hard and when you fail you have to find a way to forgive yourself, make a plan, and move on from it. If you don’t, you are bound to continue to repeat the same bad patterns/habits that you are fighting so hard to change. And frankly, you deserve so much more than that. Don’t believe me? Well…that’s for a different blog entry! In the meantime, try to have compassion for yourself! Remind yourself how hard change is and how far out of our way we go to keep things status quo. Try and remove the shame and celebrate the small changes you do engage in.
January is a new beginning. But, so is tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. Change is there when you are ready to embrace it. I am so excited for when that year, month, week, day, moment happens and I hope you will allow all of us to celebrate it with you!
Cheers! Here is to an amazing year, month, week…you get my point! 😉
I have a lot more thoughts on the process of change. Please stay tuned for my next blog entry!
In the meantime, I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on this!