Over the last year, I’ve committed myself to transformation in just about every realm of my life: physical, mental, emotional, and professional. I’m sure a lot of you reading this are not newbies to self-improvement, but man – trying to better yourself in just about every way at once is exhausting.
So the thing is, if you’re going to make changes over a long period of time – let’s say…forever – you’ll need feedback to support you on your journey when things feel impossible. As nice as it would be if were to decide to stop overeating and then just…well, stopped, it rarely happens that way. The trajectory looks a little more like:
And that’s no joke. When I went to see Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s talk about the mythology of modern day diets, he showed a graph depicting the weight of a woman who had been seeing him clinically for 5+ years. This woman was no doubt successful – she had lost 80lbs over her time with Dr. Freedhoff. But her weight loss wasn’t the point; the chart was speckled with flat lines and increases, as well as drops. In fact, Dr. Freedhoff pointed out an entire year where this woman lost no weight at all.
And yet, she persevered.
As with any change to our condition, it’s easy to keep going when success feels easy and really, really difficult to do so when we feel like we’re flailing. What we often fail to realize is that our current conditions are the sum of all the choices we’ve made leading up to that moment. For example, if you are struggling to lose weight and you ate a chocolate bar for breakfast, it’s pretty safe to say that the single chocolate bar did not derail your efforts (even if you think it did). But, if you are struggling to lose weight and you ate a chocolate bar for breakfast every day for the last month and, realizing this doesn’t fill you up, you end up overeating for the rest of the day…then that repeated choice is definitely derailing you.
What I’ve realized is that while our choices obviously influence our level of success, it’s the way we frame our choices that matters the most. If you make positive choices about food and exercise 50% of the time and 50% of the time you ‘fail’, I’m willing to bet that the thoughts you have about your failures come through much louder than the ones about your success. For whatever reason, even if we’re making a massive change in our lifestyle, we seem to think of success as the baseline and ‘failure’ as the accent. Which is to say that we rarely reward our successes but are quick to self-flagellate when we ‘fail’, ie. deviate from our success.
Here’s the thing: every success we have in implementing a change reflects positive choices we’ve made one way or another. So while you might beat yourself up for choosing to eat ice cream every night after dinner this week, you have an awful lot of data to support that you CAN stop and in fact, that this is not your norm. Even if it IS your norm – let’s say you ate ice cream every evening for 30 years – I guarantee you have instances where you have chosen not to do so and that is evidence that you are capable and can make a different choice.
It’s easy to feel powerless and out of control in the moment when we’re deciding whether or not to indulge in something that we want SO badly but know we “shouldn’t” have. In those moments – heart pounding, face-flushed, stomach in knots – we feel like the outcome is inevitable. At those moments, it’s important to take a breath and think: do I have evidence to support that this outcome is not fixed? when have I chosen differently? When have I turned down something I want badly? When in my life have I chosen in favour of a long-term goal despite short-term temptations?
By practicing this, you are retraining your brain to scan your memory for evidence supporting a positive choice – to not eat ice cream because you feel stuffed from dinner, let’s say. It could just as easily scan for evidence to support a different choice (for example, the choice to eat ice cream) and probably would prefer to do so because it’s been habitually trained to validate your repeated behaviour (ice cream every night). Essentially, you are setting your brain up to support you in your journey and to offer you proof of your ability to succeed.
This is such a powerful tool – I hope you’ll give it a try the next time you feel like you’re spiraling ‘out of control’. The truth is, there are few things in life we can truly control; your mind is one of them, so take advantage.