by Marcia Childress
Fresh starts are inspiring. We feel free from our past mistakes and even a bit smarter because of them; since we know more about what we want and perhaps too much about what we don’t want. A whole new year promises a whole new you. But let’s stay real here: this is an artifice, an illusion. We continue to be who we are. Our heightened expectations often just lead us to deepening our familiar self-criticisms.
So how do the changes we want truly take form in our lives? Having been a researcher/teacher/student of this question for many decades, I see that nothing transforms until we accept where we are. Whatever it is about us or our lives that gets us mad, sad, disgusted, numb or any other negative reaction is surprisingly reinforced by our resistance to it.
The energy we spend thinking, strategizing, fighting, defending and denying keeps it very much alive in our lives. It can seem impossible to not focus on your specific source of suffering. Yet this is the habit to change—not overeating, smoking, spending or any other of our “faults”.
We cannot “hate” ourselves into loving ourselves. What this means to me is this: if we “resolve” to be aware of what we are thinking about a “bad habit” or life circumstance, we will most likely see that our self-talk about this is extremely negative. Start there. Maybe you can even write down what you have been saying and throw it in the trash. Then write a new list where you reframe these statements into things that really support you, things that are kind, self-forgiving and understanding of human-nature. Consciously choose to think these new statements in the morning, before bed and any other time you decide. Perhaps set a reminder on the phone or decide that at every red light you will dwell on your new thoughts.
When we calm the self-attacks of our negative thinking (even when the behavior is genuinely bad for you, you begin to lay the foundation for actual change. You are changing your brain, reducing stress and opening yourself to the possibility of new behaviors. The negative thinking keeps us from self-love and self-acceptance. We are not able to give ourselves the benefits of healthful changes without a foundation of self-love. Why would we do the right thing for an underserving person? We need to rise to the inner mental/emotional reality that great habits are what we deserve, to bring great habits into our days.
So instead of another year of resolving (and failing) to work out or eat less or (name your own resolution here), resolve to begin untangling the ties that bind the bad habit to you: your thoughts and your unconscious beliefs. The very simple steps outlined above can surprise you. You are worth the effort.
Marcia Childress, RN, is the program director at the Rise Well-Being Center, in Reston. To contact Marica, call 703-429-1509 or to learn more about Rise Well-Being Center, visit RiseWellBeing.center.