Stop focusing on ‘just’ surviving and start thrivingApr 20, 2021
Changing our behavior is difficult. If it was easy, we wouldn’t find ourselves making the same New Year’s resolutions year after year. Starting diets and falling off them within weeks. Picking up our mood and then feeling down the following week, making promises to ourselves that we just can’t keep.
But it’s important to recognize that this difficulty to change behavior is a universal struggle, not a personal failing. It isn’t just related to ostomates either, it relates to everyone.
Many of us are taught to believe that if we just work hard enough, push ourselves enough, and drum up enough willpower and self-discipline, we should be able to change, accept and get through everything.
Interestingly, each of us has two competing and conflicting parts of ourselves: the impulsive self that wants immediate gratification, and the wise self, that knows what is best for us. When we want to change a behavior, whether doing something that we haven’t been doing but we know is good for us (like walking daily to keep our guts moving) or stopping a behavior that we know is bad for us (like overeating things that give us blowouts), these two brain systems are in conflict. So how can we let our wise-self win the fight?
Three Hidden Ingredients for Lasting Change!
- The first thing is that we need to be willing to experience discomfort and lean in toward it. This is not something we often focus on when we try to change behavior. In fact, sometimes we think that we should be able to get rid of our discomfort in order to “just do it.” We miss acknowledging that most change is uncomfortable, even scary at times, and takes not just a can-do attitude, but an element of courage. It often doesn’t feel good in the moment to initiate something new, and no matter how much willpower we have, that discomfort may still be there.
For You to Try: Learning to lean into (rather than away from) the discomfort, and getting curious about it, can actually help you take a step towards changing your behavior, even though this may at first sound counter-intuitive. As an experiment, the next time you are facing some resistance to a behavior change, see if you might pause for sixty seconds or more and notice any discomfort in your body with some curiosity and friendliness, and see what happens.
- Another key ingredient to help us muster up this willingness to tolerate discomfort is to hold out in front of us what we most value and identify why this behavior change matters to us. When we identify what we most value, we are more willing to experience being uncomfortable for a long-term, greater good.
For You to Try: Take a moment and think about what behavior you want to change and ask yourself why is this truly important to you? How will changing this behavior align you with living the kind of life that you value? How will engaging in this behavior help you align today with the parts of you that you most value about yourself? How will it help you be that best version of yourself today? Now write this down on a notecard and carry it with you as you read it repeatedly throughout the day, focusing on the feeling that this calls up in your body.
- Both of these above ingredients are important, but the place where I mostly miss the mark and stray from my goal is when I handle setbacks with self-criticism, and then give up entirely because I “blew it.” We all experience setbacks, and the more we can build this into the process of change, and approach our mistakes with self-compassion and kindness, the more likely we will have the motivation needed to reach our goals.
For You to Try: The next time you find yourself falling short of a goal, think of how you might sit and talk with a good friend who is in the same predicament. Chances are you wouldn’t berate your friend or tell them they are a loser or a failure because they fell back into an unhelpful habit. Respond to yourself the same way that you would respond to that good friend, likely with compassion.
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