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Making Lasting Lifestyle Changes

It’s summertime and perhaps you’re feeling motivated to make some positive lifestyle changes like reducing your intake of processed foods, exercising more, drinking more water and less caffeine and attacking your clutter. Yet, when you contemplate these changes, you wonder if you’ll really be able to make them this time. After all, how many summers have you set goals that you haven’t been able to achieve?  In fact, how many New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside?

Making lifestyle changes can be daunting and challenging, especially when you are trying to change many things at once. And the difficult nature of making changes means that you’ll have to put in effort when the process is no longer fun or inspiring.  So, how can you find the motivation to start changing and stick with it?  Before I address the “how”, let’s take a look at the “what” that might get in the way of making changes:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of being uncomfortable
  • Fear of inadequacy
  • Feeling unworthy
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Perfectionism
  • Feeling that you’re too busy to make the changes
  • Physical, emotional and spiritual depletion
  • Not sure how to change or where to start

Whether the above fears and feelings are conscious or unconscious, they can derail your best intentions, so it’s best to address them head on, before they undermine your success. Place a checkmark by the ones listed above that you feel apply to your situation. For each item you’ve checked off, write down a sentence or two about this fear or feeling (something your Feeling Self might say), followed directly by a sentence or two that your Inner Nurturer (that wise, loving and kind voice inside who always has your best interest in mind) might say.

For example:

Fear of being uncomfortableFeeling Self:  “I’m afraid that if I begin to limit my intake of processed foods, I’ll feel deprived and restricted.” “I’ll be too uncomfortable and won’t be able to stand it.” Inner Nurturer: “It makes sense that you’re afraid of feeling deprived–we’ve gone on some extremely restrictive diets in the past. How about if we take it very slow and choose only one food at a time to limit?”

Feeling overwhelmed:  Feeling Self: “There are just too many changes to make–my head is spinning. I don’t know where to start.”  Inner Nurturer: “I know it feels overwhelming and confusing when we have so many aspects of our self and life that we want to change.  Let’s just pick one small baby-step change to start with–for example, let’s just de-clutter that one pile today.”

Perfectionism: Feeling Self: “One small baby-step change hardly even makes a dent. It’s not enough; what’s the point in even trying? I’ll never get it all together.”  Inner Nurturer: “I know that it’s easy to let our perfectionism and desire to have everything in place get in our way and derail our motivation. Let’s keep in mind that we can achieve all our goals, over time, by taking one small step at a time. All we need to do is access our patience and willingness to delay gratification for short periods of time.”

Hopefully, the above exercise will help you break through some of your resistance to change and set the stage for forward movement. Now you’re ready for the “how” of finding the motivation to change and sticking with it.  The following steps will help you get into action:

Step 1. Prioritize your goals. Motivation begins with direction. Make a list of all the areas of your life you would like to change. Decide on one or two areas to focus on first. Do not try to tackle everything at once. This is a recipe for burn-out.

Step 2. Get microscopic. What small action can you take today or this week to move yourself forward?  Movement and accomplishment are motivating. When you complete your first baby-steps, get clear on the next actions. Write everything down.

Step 3. Track your progress. How will you monitor your success? Will you put an “X” on the calendar every time you take that 20 minute walk or the three times this week you replaced dessert with a healthier option?  Will you enlist an accountability buddy? Will you be keeping a change log? Make sure you have a plan in place for tracking your progress.

Step 4. Catch and Reframe Self-Defeating thoughts. At some point in the process of making changes, the actions you’re going to be taking to meet your goals are going to become tedious and tiring.  Many people give up at this point because change begins to feel too hard, boring or stressful. The initial excitement is over and now comes the hard work of staying the course. This is actually the point in time when your efforts toward change really count–now you’re building lasting skills. This is a good time to become mindful of any self-defeating, self-sabotaging thoughts and replace them with positive, energizing reframes. So for example, when you catch yourself thinking “Life just isn’t fun anymore when I stick to a healthy eating plan,” try reframing this thought with a new thought like “I’m loving feeling healthier in my body and I’m finding more non-food ways to bring excitement into my life.”  Or when you catch yourself thinking “I’ll never get through all this clutter and stay de-cluttered,” try a reframe like “I can get through my clutter over time and I can put systems in place so that I can say clutter-free.”

Step 5. Practice Self-Affirming Commentary daily. There is no doubt that positive thinking and self-compassion build self-esteem and confidence.  We’re more likely to want to work on change when we’re feeling good about ourselves. Take time every day to talk to yourself in an unconditionally supportive and positive way. Examples of self-affirming commentary:  “I’m proud of myself for clearing out the garage today.” “I exercised twice this week; that’s great. It’s more than I’ve done in a long time.”

Making lifestyle changes takes time and commitment. You’re building your endurance skills; you will have occasional lapses. If you skip the gym, or eat the cheesecake, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s normal to have minor missteps and set backs. Dust yourself off, be kind to yourself and access your willingness to get back on track. You can do it!

Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.

Image courtesy of Tirachard Kumtanom/Pexels.net



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