Don't you love a story about someone making big, sweeping changes and transforming their lives? It's even better when it happens overnight! Stories of transformation can be inspiring—they can help us believe we can do it too. But sustainable change doesn't usually happen in the span of a film training montage set to "Eye of the Tiger."
It's not very exciting to think about going on 25 first dates before we meet that special someone. It feels like it'll take forever to reach our weight goal if we lose a pound a week. It's not as appealing to transform at a slower pace, but it's often the best route to success—and the only one that works long term.
I'm writing a series of articles to illustrate what typically happens when we try to make too many changes too fast. There are specific strategies to help you make sustainable change.
I work with clients who have been "trying" to achieve a change in their lives and keep hitting the wall of self-sabotage. What happens? Why don't we stick to our commitments to make the changes we say we so badly want happen?
I recently learned about a client's journey and desire to make important shifts in her life. Let's see what can be learned from Natalie's ups and downs.
In the office conference room that Monday afternoon, Natalie sat through what she felt was another useless, never-ending meeting. She was feeling tired, restless, and already depleted from the day. Natalie had spent the weekend having fun but, as usual, overindulging in sugar, alcohol, and then there was last night's pizza and ice cream.
She promised herself today would be a reset.
Not only a food reset but a "today I step up my game," whole new attitude. Natalie vowed to get up early, work out, meditate, be on time for everything, get focused at work, and even make some fun social plans.
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. that morning and Natalie pressed snooze. She overslept and didn't work out or meditate but did manage a healthy smoothie for breakfast and a salad for lunch.
But now, at 3 p.m., Natalie was hungry, tired, totally unmotivated, and wanted SOMETHING to get her through the rest of the workday.
The vending machine beckoned. There were baked goods from a meeting just sitting by the office printer. Natalie broke off a piece of the carrot muffin, "It's just a small piece," she thought. Many "little" pieces later, topped off by a diet soda and potato chips, she felt bloated, completely unfocused, and frustrated with herself.
That painful inner conversation began again:
"What is wrong with me? Why did I just eat that? Now the whole day is blown. I promised myself I would get back on track today, and I can't get through one day. I don't have any willpower or discipline. I'm tired, my clothes feel tight, and I just don't have the energy to even care right now. I really don't have the energy to be great today. I just want to get through the day and go home."
After complaining to her work colleague and berating herself, Natalie rebounded.
"I need a jump-start!"
"I know, I'll start a juice cleanse tomorrow. That's just what I need to kick my butt. A few days of juice and smoothies and I'll feel like a new person. I'm so excited to start tomorrow."
Feeling optimistic, Natalie grabbed a couple of pieces of chocolate out of the candy jar on her co-workers desk—after all, tomorrow starts a new chapter, and she won't be able to indulge for a long time!
What do you think Natalie did the next day?
Would you bet on her?
Here are five pitfalls to watch for when planning to make a change in your life:
You vow to make multiple changes or one big change all at once. Successful transformations usually happen gradually. It may not be exciting and may feel like too long a journey, but making small changes consistently over a period of time sets you up for success.
2. Throwing in the towel today and vowing to start over tomorrow
In the moment, it's easy to believe it's "just for today." But today is yesterday's tomorrow. Do what you can now to set yourself up for success tomorrow.
3. Engaging in self-sabotaging conversation
You know that nagging voice in the head that says things about ourselves we probably wouldn't say to our worst enemies? This pattern of negativity and feeling bad causes the very behavior you are trying to change to continue. The worse you feel about yourself the less likely you are to focus on the positive and take the actions you want.
4. Believing your own excuses and justifications
Must you skip your workout because you feel tired? Does the sugar really make you feel refreshed and calmer when you are stressed? Be honest with yourself and challenge the reasons you use to get off the hook from keeping commitments.
5. Breaking commitments to yourself over and over.
The more you break your word, the less you believe in your ability to create and sustain change. Losing trust and confidence in yourself to follow through is a major roadblock to making positive changes. How powerful would it be if you could trust yourself to follow through on every commitment?