January 4, 2010

After I posted my entry on making 86 worth getting to I was asked by a friend about the process of change; about my experience when I came to the realization that I needed to change today in order to effect a healthier tomorrow.

Because we always encounter resistance when we try to effect change in our lives. Often times there is a sense of restriction and our innate reaction is to push against that constraint. So, we create an exercise regimen and after a few days feel the need to break the chains of our self imposed tyranny and take the day off. Or that resistance could be a sense of depravity from the void we’ve created by removing something from our lives. So, we stop smoking and replace that with eating. Or we diet and have to have a cheat day to console our sense of loss.

I was asked how I successfully navigated that resistance. And the simple truth is I lied, a lot.

More precisely (and less glibly) I made a conscious effort to control my thoughts and focus them in certain directions; both in the broad sense and practically.

Broadly, several years ago I began to understand that my character determined my destiny (and yes, there was a line from Simply Irresistible that helped articulate that). I just kind of knew that if I was going to create a vastly different life for myself it wasn’t enough to try to change my circumstances. I had to change who I was and how I thought and the circumstances would come out of that change.

Practically, I did 5 things.

1 – I read The Slight Edge: Secret to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson. It’s a quick little read about compound interest and how that effects your life and your body and your relationships and not just your health. I highly, highly recommend it. Hearing him say these things, even though I kind of already knew them, helped change my thought pattern. Most importantly, The Slight Edge really gave weight and substance and power to the decisions I made each day; to the magnitude of consistency.

When I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and didn’t feel like working out I reminded myself that working out that day mattered, a lot. That the accumulation of my decisions was going to define who I was becoming and did I want to be lean and strong and healthy or not. “Well, then, get your ass out of bed and work out because who you are becoming is more important than some passing comfort of staying in bed that you won’t even remember tomorrow let alone in 10 years while working out will matter then.”

2 – Instead of setting goals I projected an ideal future. A lot of people recommend setting specific goals to measure progress and give you a target to fixate upon. I found it was more effective for me to have a very clear picture of where I wanted to end up. I found a picture of this girl running and she’s strong and svelte and looks really happy while running and I thought, “I want to be like her.” So, I put it in a place where I would see it every day, particularly while I was working out. This gave me a physical reminder of a positive outcome to all the pain and change and discipline. It helped make them good things that served a purpose rather than burdens. It also gave me a tangible future to focus on that I believed could be real.

3 – I identified the things that I was able to do in order to change my future; those things that I knew would have an impact on my body. They were: what I ate, nutritional supplements and exercise. It was important for me to identify the things that were in my control because I could do them each day and then let it go. There wasn’t a constant pressure of, “I have to change! What can I do? Am I doing enough?” I determined what I’d eat every day, knowing they were good meals. I took my supplements and I worked out and then I left it all and went on with my day knowing I’d done everything I could for the day.

4 – I didn’t watch the results. I didn’t weigh myself. I didn’t measure myself. I tried not to focus on my body image when I looked in the mirror. I KNEW I was doing the things I needed to do for my body, KNEW I was doing everything that was within my control to do (consistently!) and so I let go of the results, trusting in the process. This freed me from the restriction of a time frame for change to occur. If I wasn’t weighing myself everyday, measuring fluctuations of progress and regress, I never became discouraged that it wasn’t working. And when I started to feel restless or impatient I REMINDED myself I was doing everything within my power to do and I needed to let the rest go.

5 – Finally, and perhaps most importantly aside from consistency, I changed my language. Some people try to explain this by referring to things like “internal dialogue” which just sounds ethereal and therefore beyond our control. But I just made it simple. I decided what I wanted and was honest about what it would take to get that, even if it meant lying to myself (quite frequently with as descriptive words as I could muster).

  • I never thought I denied myself any food. Since I wanted to be strong and healthy I only wanted to make good, healthy food a part of my body. I wanted to eat salad because it was delicious and green and all those fresh vegetables were so good for me (and I told myself those words as I was eating it).
  • If I saw a chocolate chip cookie or a brownie I dwelt on how destructive the sugar in it was. I lied to myself and said “You don’t want that brownie” instead of “I really want that brownie but I can’t have it”.
  • I told myself I wanted to drink lots and lots of water because it’s clear and cool and is washing impurities from my body and my skin loves it and by purifying my body I’m making it stronger.
  • I told myself I wanted to work out. I loved working out.
  • And when it hurt to work out I reminded myself that it should; that the work out was breaking down muscles. When I slept the real work was going to happen, building that muscle back up and I’d wake up stronger and leaner, if even just a little bit.
  • Every time I took my supplements I thought of those nutrients infusing my body and giving my cells what they needed to make my body work and make all this change happen. I sort of thought of my supplements like little robots that I put into my body and they would flit all around doing everything that needed to be done and taking all the exercise and good food and water and doing something with it, making them exponentially more effective.

And I didn’t just tell myself these things when I was struggling. I told myself these things all the time, over and over again which turned the tables on my resistance. I hadn’t instituted a new regimen or deprived myself of anything. I was changing what I wanted and taking action to give myself everything I desired. So there was nothing left to resist.

Our emotions are determined by our thoughts. And if we’re paying attention, our thoughts are within our control; to choose the words we use to define how we perceive our life and our choices.

I consistently chose messages that I did want to do healthy things and I did not want anything to do with unhealthy things. Sometimes it was a lie and sometimes I knew I was manipulating myself. But ultimately I knew I wanted to be lean and strong and healthy more than I wanted the passing pleasure of a brownie that I would forget in 1/2 an hour but that would effect my body and destroy all these choices I’d been making far longer. So, I also knew I wasn’t really lying that much.

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