This post is a follow up to yesterday’s concerning making changes. Tomorrow will mark the first full work week of 2014 and in my circle of friends and family it’s common to use that first Monday as the first step in a renewed journey. If you happen to have pushed “reset” for this year I hope these reminders will be of help. So here are some things you need to know and likely already do…
1) Bent branches snap back: I have been on both the giving and receiving end of a branch held back to clear a trail snapping back to its original position. It stings a bit and I literally nearly lost an eye that way once upon a time. The branch snaps back because the tension stores energy like a spring and it’s just physics that it wants to return to its natural position once released. The only way to change that is to cut the branch or pin it back until it begins to grow in a new direction. We humans trying to make changes are often like that. We’ve been growing a particular direction for a while and changing that direction will build emotional tension as our habits try to snap us back to where we are used to being. Will power alone is very unlikely to diffuse this tension and will eventually succumb unless we have some sort of plan to “pin” it back until we can grow in a new direction. Obviously, this plan will vary greatly depending on the change we are attempting, but potential “pins” include partnering with others, journaling, mantras, breathing exercises when stressed, etc. If you simply go it alone with nothing more than “I’ll start this” or “I’ll stop doing that” your will power may work for a while but you are almost guaranteed to lose your grip eventually. This brings us our next thing we need to know–
2) The moment of truth when attempting change is when we “fail”: I put “fail” in quotes because momentary setbacks do not HAVE to become permanent, but often they do. Whether it actually becomes failure or not depends on what we do next. There’s a very complex emotional/physiological/behavior loop that begins to cascade that first day we don’t get up to exercise or the moment we do light up that cigarette or whatever it is that that we would see as a failure in our particular endeavor. So whatever plan you come up with to help you make a change needs to include what you will do if your branch slips from your grasp and you find yourself having a really bad moment or day or week. Again, partnering with a person or three can be a big help here and I find that meditation will often help short-circuit that negative feedback loop that leads to negative behavior. We must remind ourselves that having slipped and fallen doesn’t mean we have to lay there and wallow in our personal muck. Get back up! The beautiful thing about any “failure” is that it immediately becomes the past. It can be learned from and doesn’t have to become the future. So take a breath and get back on the path you really want to be on. This brings us to the third thing we need to know–
3) That piece of cake isn’t what you really want: I use food as an example because it’s such a common area where we want to make changes. The majority of people I know would really like to eat in a fashion healthier than they actually do. But if this is true why do we often eat so many things that are unhealthy? Why does a very smart person act in a way that is basically insane? The honest truth is that because of our particular wounding in the harshness of life we ALL carry varying degrees of insanity inside of us. Our various addictions–from the relatively mild to very severe are all attempts to cope with this pain. That’s how “comfort food” gets to be comfort food. It makes us feel better in our brains even if it ravages our bodies. Feeling better is what we actually want, not that piece of cake. And do you know what REALLY feels “better”? Success! Victory! So when you find yourself in moments of temptation in terms of the changes you seek ask yourself a very simple question: “What do I REALLY want?” This will bring you back to your conscious and relatively sane self. Your sane self seeks health and happiness over the course of life, not just gratification in the moment regardless of consequence.
So–we have a plan to guide our success and a contingency aspect of that plan for when we fall short of our goals. We do some inward work concerning what we really want in our life. January turns to April, and we are working out or eating better or have lost weight or reduced our debt or are meditating every day or whatever. It feels SO GOOD! This brings us to our final thing we need to know–
4) You will want to tell everyone but probably shouldn’t: Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing to have a small group of helpers to share both victories and defeats. Fellowship in that sense is a very good thing. But when we start talking and sharing with everyone about what we are doing it tends to take our focus off the doing. It steals mental energy. It’s akin to a distance runner wasting energy to make little side trips while running a marathon. Your energy is precious–don’t waste it talking, use it doing. Your changed life or body or bank account is all the testimony you need. You are doing this for yourself and loved ones, not for the spectators. An occasional and brief testimony in response to questions is fine, but if you find yourself becoming an evangelist for your new life, be careful. It’s easy to lose focus and before you know it you find yourself sliding back to the place you don’t want to be. Save the real evangelism for later, when your branch is solidly rooted in your new direction.
To all readers setting out in a new and positive direction, you have all my best wishes for success whatever the endeavor. Don’t just wish for a happy 2014. Make it a happy year yourself. You have the power, so make a plan and take the first step. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.