It seems rather obvious to say, “If nothing changes, everything stays the same,” but the reality is we live as if this truth doesn’t apply to our situation. How many times have you heard someone complain or get upset about a circumstance that you personally know has been the same for ages? You can almost repeat the complaint word-for-word as the other person works his/her way through the familiar lament.
Sometimes, we think (and maybe even say if you’re me), “If you don’t like ____ [whatever the situation is] why don’t you change it?” Usually, the response is something like, “I can’t.” Either the individual doesn’t know what to do, is discouraged, or isn’t truly invested in making things different.
When clients come to see me they are often frustrated or unhappy about what seems like a perpetual problem; a situation that happens over and over again. No matter how often they vow never to let ____ happen again, it does. One of the first things we talk about is the willingness to do something different. This seems simple, but in truth, we are creatures of habit and only reluctantly acknowledge the need to DO something different (quite often because we’re forced to).
We are complex creatures – we think, feel, and act. When we try to make changes without involving all of those areas, it’s very difficult to sustain the effort. Think about the decision to quit smoking. I can decide to quit smoking, but if I don’t actually take action it’s highly unlikely I’ll be successful in quitting. We need to act on the choices we make.
So here’s the deal:
#1 Don’t flip over the Monopoly board. Identify the problem you want to solve. Start small. ‘Nibble’ at the edges of the problem by figuring out what is one small change you can make in your regular habits that you can sustain. That’s the key. Don’t try to implement any change that you aren’t positive you’ll be able to do. Think again about the smoking. If you decide you’re going to quit, you start by eliminating your 3 o’clock smoke break, and go for a walk instead. And you do that for two weeks, then eliminate your 10 o’clock smoke, and so on, until you’ve tapered off over time, to the point where you can pick a date and STOP smoking.
#2 Make your goals achievable, intentional, and measurable (AIM). The long-term goal needs to be something you can actually do, something that you want to do, and it needs to be finite enough for you to be able to say, “Yes! I did that.” Paradoxically, your short-term goal needs to be more finite – like a small chunk of the big goal. I started on the journey to change my lifestyle so that I would be able to be active with my grandsons. I decided I would become as healthy as I could possibly be. That became my open-ended goal. The short-term goals included weight loss, committing to at least 3 workouts/week, and finding solutions to specific health issues.
#3 Lose the “All or Nothing” thinking. The absolute enemy of change is a black and white mindset. If we slip up and go back to the old habit, so many of us just give up. This type of thinking gets us into trouble in all sorts of ways, but never more quickly than when we’re trying to change something. The reality of life is that no one is perfect. Life isn’t perfect. When my clients tell me, “I messed up on Monday and just gave up. What’s the point if I can’t even do _____ for one day?” I tell them, “You mean, life happened?” The ability to be kind to yourself is a huge advantage in life. When you mess up, remind yourself that perfection is not required, a slip is not a fall, and a fall is not defeat. Mentally dust yourself off, and carry on with the new action.
#4 Celebrate small successes. Every. Single. One. If you normally smoke 30 cigarettes a day (210/week), and you decide to taper off on the way to quitting, and this week you get to the end of the week and have only puffed 200 cancer-sticks, rejoice! That’s 10 less than you normally smoke. Take yourself out for a date. Get that pair of jeans you wanted. Buy a new piece of bling. Meet a friend for dinner and tell him/her why you’re celebrating. DO something to acknowledge to yourself the effort you’ve made.
I’d love to hear ([email protected]) how a choice you’ve put into action has changed something for you.
P.S. If you really are trying to quit smoking, remember this. Research shows that nicotine is one of the most difficult substances to stop using. The more help and support you put into place, the better…and make a reasonable timeline. Some people can quit “cold turkey” but others do better with harm reduction. Reducing over time. Someone smoking thirty years might be successful over a time line of six months, whereas they’ve been unable to be successful by suddenly quitting. If you want to quit, try again but this time, Do. Something. Different.