Sooooo it’s January 2nd.
If you’re like me, you’re probably seeing a bunch of fitness/resolutions-based posts on social media and feeling like you’re already behind.
Here’s the problem:
When they say things like, “No excuses!” and “You just have to decide”, THEY’RE RIGHT. Meaning, yes, the power and control and responsibility is ultimately yours. But I think this type of mentality is missing a vital piece, which is this: YOU CAN’T WILLPOWER YOUR WAY INTO CHANGE. It doesn’t work. At all. At least, not for very long.
The problem lies in our brain. According to the majority of scientific studies done on the topic, willpower is like a muscle that can get depleted if overused. Basically, when you are using willpower to resist temptations more than you are used to, especially all at once, then it depletes your ability to resist later. In other words, somethin’s gotta give–eventually. People in one study who were asked to hold back their emotions while watching an emotional film gave up more quickly later in a physical assessment than those who reacted to the film however they wanted. So if we can’t rely on our willpower to make long-term changes, then what the actual crap are we supposed to do?
There are two really important things that no one really teaches us about making big changes: firstly, that when striving to take that leap, you’re better off baby stepping it, and secondly, you HAVE to stop resisting your emotions.
1. Take it in baby steps.
When you’re trying to change pretty drastically from what you’ve been doing in the past, your brain is like a skeptical friend who doesn’t really believe that you can do it. Sure, he likes you okay and enjoys your company, but when it comes down to it, he’s pretty sure that you’re not going to be able to hack it, and he’ll try to talk you out of it. As a friend, of course. He cites all the past evidence that he’s accumulated (all the times you’ve tried and failed, for instance), all the examples of other people who’ve tried to do what you want to do and have failed, ad nauseam. Plus, this uber-concerned friend has an extremely vested interest in keeping you alive, and he perceives all of this change to be as dangerous as a tiger. So when you say to yourself, “I’ve got this! I’m going to cut out sugar and flour. I know it will be healthy for me and I’ll finally lose the weight. Let’s do this!”, your brain is like, “Riiiiightttt.” In other words, YOUR BRAIN DOESN’T BELIEVE YOU. And everything starts there, in your thoughts. Your thoughts will cause your emotions, which will drive your actions. So I find it’s more useful to pick a “middle thought”.
For example, if you’re trying to go from the thought, “I hate my body” to “I love my body”, pick a thought that is the next step up from that, like “I have a body.” It keeps it believable and neutral for your brain, so that you can move on from the negative thought at a gradual pace and bring your brain along with you.
2. STOP resisting your emotions.
Resisting emotions is one of the WORST things you can ever do. And the funny thing is that most of us do it ALL the time. We’re getting dinner ready and doing the dishes, and then our kids are hanging on our ankles and saying “MAMAMAMAMAMAMA” and we either think, “I should be able to handle this, why am I getting so irritated?” or “My life shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t have to feel this way.” That’s what I mean by resisting emotion. What I’m proposing instead and offering to you is that you lean into the negative emotion. Don’t resist it. Just let it come. If you’re trying to follow a certain food protocol to lose weight, and you feel the craving come on, really try and stop and listen to your body. Where do you feel the craving in your body? What emotion is at the bottom of it? See if you can make it get stronger. Tell yourself, “This is what deprivation feels like (or anxiety, or irritation, or anger, or whatever emotion comes up for you when you resist a craving). Oh, hey deprivation. What’s up? I guess we’re going to be hanging out today.”
I PROMISE this works. I’ve used it for years when I’m in a situation where I don’t want to start crying. (Not that there’s anything wrong with crying, just there are times when I don’t care to be vulnerable in that way in front of someone.) Instead of thinking something like, “Stupid! Nonononono do NOT start crying right now!!” (resisting the emotion of sadness), I say, “I am gonna freaking bawl my EYES out right now. I’m gonna cry SO HARD.” And immediately the feeling subsides and I stop feeling the urge to cry. I allow myself the feeling, and then it’s like the act of just letting go makes the feeling more bearable. It doesn’t go away. I’m still sad about whatever, but I’m not RESISTING it anymore and making it WORSE.
So as you go forth on your New Year’s Resolutions, try these ideas out. See if they work for you. I’d love to hear about it too! And remember: when it comes to weight loss/health/fitness/clean eating goals, THERE IS NO WAGON. People say all the time, “I just fell off the wagon this weekend.” It makes it sound so final, like it’s over now. I repeat: THERE IS NO WAGON. You can’t fall off. This isn’t a pass or fail, where you make one mistake and it’s over. This is your life. And it’s beautiful and messy and defined by more than just if you can follow a diet perfectly or not. This is your body. And it doesn’t really like diets, or restrictions, because it thinks you are starving and going to die. So OF COURSE it craves carbs and sugar, because it knows that it got energy and fuel from those in the past. So be gentle with yourself and your body. Listen to your body and let it tell you what it needs, not some celebrity fitness trainer (although I am a sucker for their workouts :P). Take baby steps, and most of all, don’t resist that negative emotion that ALWAYS comes whenever you’re trying to make a big change. Don’t let that negative emotion stop you, either, but don’t resist it. More on that to come. You rock, my friends. Have a happy freaking New Year and make 2018 the BEST.