I’ll be honest enough to admit I work on this all the time. No matter how many times I face a choice like this, it feels like the first time I’ve ever done it. So, what I’m offering here are some methods I use to break out of an old pattern and try something new. These ideas are certainly not new, or exclusive to me, but they are the things that make a difference for me.
One of the first questions I ask myself is how do my current habits serve me? What benefit am I getting from my current behavior? I list all of the things I like about life as it is right now. Maybe I love the taste of the foods I currently eat. Maybe I love the feeling of speeding down the highway. Maybe I work better under pressure, so I might as well procrastinate until I’m up against a deadline. These are examples of the kinds of things that come up for me. When I’m looking at the benefits, I tend to go pretty deep, looking for all the ways these habits are satisfying something within me. It’s more than just an exercise of making a list. I can spend a week or two living with the questions and allowing more and more answers to come up.
Usually, in the process of discovering how my current habits serve me, I find that I’m also uncovering things that I thought were being satisfied but are really just being covered up or silenced. For instance, when I cook the foods I grew up with, I have a feeling of home and comfort. At least I think I do. What I’m really missing is my childhood. I want the freedom to run and play without responsibilities. I want that feeling of security that came from knowing my family was always there, meals were on the table, and my parents were attentive. The food I’m eating now can’t satisfy the need to run from responsibility. Food doesn’t bring security, it brings the memory of security. Those memories are valuable, but some of those foods no longer serve my body in a healthy way. Those memories are a large part of what makes it difficult to choose something different.
Next, I look at my expectations. Usually, I’m expecting this new choice to involve a lot of work. It’s going to be hard to do. I want to see immediate, positive results but I don’t expect it to actually work for me. Let’s be honest, if it’s good for me, I don’t expect to like it! Sound familiar? That’s a lot of negative mental chatter! I’ve set myself up for failure before I even start. In order to set myself up for success, I start asking questions again. How will this new behavior benefit me? Will I be able to reduce or eliminate a medication? In the case of driving fast on the highway, will I be less likely to have an accident and possible lower the cost of my car insurance by slowing down? Will I reduce some of my stress if I work in advance of a deadline?
Let’s look at the food example a little deeper. How can I incorporate a different eating style and still have food that tastes good? What can I do to make this new eating plan something I look forward to instead of feeling like a punishment? What has to happen for this choice to feel easy and fit into my lifestyle and time constraints? How long do I think it will take before I see results and new benefits? What will make these new choices feel just as good, or better, than my old choices? What could get in the way of being successful at this? What will I do if I find myself reverting to old habits? When I can look at the tough choice directly and honestly, I can plan and prepare for it. If I’m only seeing what’s hard about it, I will fail at the very first obstacle.
The third thing that’s important for me is to find a way to shift my perspective. Although this may seem similar to looking at expectations, it goes a step farther into my overall attitude. When it comes to my weight, I’ve always felt like a victim. It’s not fair that I can’t eat like everyone else does. Why do I have to count, measure and weigh out portions. What’s wrong with me that I don’t know how to eat or that my body doesn’t process food like everyone else does? For the most part, I don’t live my life with a victim mentality. I feel like I’m at choice in most everything I do. So, when I realized recently that I was holding this ‘not fair’ attitude with regard to my weight and eating habits, it took me by surprise.
But facing that attitude, I found it was too painfully true. Changing my eating habits, whether it was for weight loss or blood sugar, never felt like my choice. I felt like I had to do it, or I should do it. Someone else decided this would be good for me. It never felt like something I would choose if I were left to myself. And the fact that I’ve never stayed on a balanced diet over the long-term demonstrates that victim attitude. I had evidence that the changes were actually in my best interests. I lost weight. My blood sugar came back into normal levels. My digestive system regulated itself and I had more energy than when I wasn’t eating a balanced diet. None of that mattered because it didn’t feel like it was authentically my idea.
Once I realized I was still throwing a major pity party for myself, I was embarrassed! It was a wake-up call to reality. Lots of people choose a balanced diet because it feels good and energizes them. They aren’t trying to lose weight - they just feel good and like the food. So, maybe there’s nothing wrong with me or my body, just my attitude. Maybe I can get over my resentment of the culture and the doctors who told me I had to change, who implied I was broken because I was fat. Maybe losing weight isn’t the goal but treating myself well is.
And isn’t that true of all of us. We can’t be shamed or ridiculed into a behavior. Even if we know it’s good for us, we don’t want to be told by someone else that we should do it. The choice has to feel authentic. We have to want to. So, whatever method we use to shift our perspective, let’s do it. We want to find a way to feel like we are making this choice freely and joyfully.
I know it has always frustrated me when I suggested something to a loved one and they resisted it. Then, months later they came and told me about this cool idea they just had! Well guess what! That’s me now. I just had this great, new idea! And I can laugh at myself for being so stubborn for so long. But truth is truth and I had to get there on my own. I couldn’t be shoved, pushed, pulled, or dynamited into making the choice until I could make it my own.
Making ‘tough’ choices can be a process. We all need time and tools and help. With a little bit of planning, a lot of soul searching, and some genuine encouragement from people who understand us, we can do it. We can find the benefits, see the potential, feel the excitement of doing something different that we know we’ll happy with in the long run.