In my last blog (Those Rusty Old Leg Traps) I publicly (!!!) announced my intention to give myself more fully to my work this year. As I move forward I find myself anchoring into some essential tools I’ve developed over the years that have allowed me to successfully change other areas of my life– everything from moderating habits like sugar, alcohol and caffeine to starting and growing my business to curing myself of chronic depression. These ideas are different from how most people tend to approach change, but they work! If you’ve had difficulty in the past trying to create lasting change, see if any of my ideas resonate.
(I have a lot to say about this, so I’ll break this topic into two blogs to avoid overwhelming you – one of the key ideas to my approach, by the way.)
Pleasure, not pain
I find in my healing arts practice that people often approach change with an attitude of ‘no pain, no gain.’ In other words, we think changing old habits has to feel miserable, at least for a while, in order to be effective. As humans we are hardwired to seek pleasure over pain, so why do we think creating pain – whether pushing ourselves to run faster, farther than our bodies are ready for or depriving ourselves of foods that taste good – is an effective approach to change? I’m not sure (although I have some theories), but millions of failed New Year’s resolutions suggest that it doesn’t work. So the first premise is to acknowledge that we like to feel good, that this is normal, and we need to take this into account as we design our strategy for change.
‘Sustainability’ is trendy these days, and it’s a great way to think of change. Sustainability hinges on creating habits that can endure over the long haul without overtaxing support systems. Applying this at a personal level, anchored in the ‘pleasure over pain’ theory, we need to think about what’s realistic and practical over time. Sure, we might be able to deprive ourselves of coffee for a few days or even a week, but if we really like coffee, the pleasure-seeking animal within will eventually stage a rebellion and take back whatever new territory we might have temporarily gained, and more. Second premise: if what you’re trying to change gives you pleasure, design a strategy that allows for a lesser amount of pleasure over the long haul.
A technique I use with massage clients entrenched in the ‘no pain, no gain’ mindset is to think of the sensation of a good stretch. It hurts a bit, but it ‘hurts good’ rather than being painful. When we feel pain – whether physical, mental or emotional –we tend to contract, and contraction is not a state conducive to change. Change happens effectively and sustainably when we are relaxed. So the third premise is to create a state of ‘dynamic tension’ that allows us to relax into a sort of ‘pleasurably painful’ stretch that is sustainable over time. As we gain new ground, we can gradually increase the stretch if we feel there’s room for further growth. But don’t start with the maximum stretch!
Patience is a Virtue
Another way people fail when trying to change – often before they’re even out of the gate – is trying to do too much too fast. So American, right? “I’ll lose 10 pounds a month for the next three months, start running 10 miles a week, and by April I’ll be ready for bikini season!” Wait. Right. There. Have you checked in with all aspects of your being to see if everyone – or anyone – is on board? If you visualize what it will really take to act on these goals, can you feel your body (or mind, or emotions) cringing? Trying to slink under the bed with its tail between its legs? If so, that’s because such a plan is too much for all the complex and interwoven aspects of your being to comfortably digest. “Old habits die hard” for a reason. They’ve become hardwired into our physiology, and it takes time to unwind the old neural pathways and create the new ones that allow new behaviors to take root. Patience and moderation are key words here. I know, I know. Sounds like so much work. So painful, right? Well, that’s because it’s new, silly! Give yourself time to grow into the idea. Premise four: start with a goal that feels almost too easy, but that gets you excited about starting.
I once heard this technique described in the following way: If you want to start a running program, for the first week spend 5 minutes a day thinking about running. The next week go out and by yourself a pair of running shoes, come home, and put them in the closet. For the rest of the week spend 5 minutes a day thinking about running in your new shoes every day. The next week, put your running shoes on every day and walk around the house for a few minutes, see how they feel. Continue to think about running in your new shoes. The next week, put your running shoes on and walk down to the mailbox every day. Imagine what if would feel like to run down to the mailbox in your new shoes. The next week, run down to the mailbox every day. Notice your itch to increase the distance – imagine yourself running twice that far every day. The next week, run twice that far. Keep increasing the distance each week until you find a sustainable and pleasurable routine.
Next week I’ll share more about this, including specific details about how I’ve applied these ideas in my own life.
Yours in Radiance,
~ Peace is Every Step ~
Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~