Guest article by Meera Watts, founder of Siddhi Yoga (bio at end of article).
When you decide with your heart in life, it becomes the kind of life that is full of bliss.
The most devout Buddhists and deeply spiritual people will attest to living life with your heart. It is the place of honesty and pure love that negates all the fear you have.
The mind is where the fear lives. It is where you go when you live in the past or worry about the future. The heart is the here and now. Meditation helps you live more with your heart while letting go of what the mind tells you based on lessons it learned long ago.
Your Subconscious-The Inner Voice
What you may not realize is the inner voice that you listen to takes its information from past situations. The subconscious is what holds all the old data and if a new situation arises or perhaps an old situation revisited, your mind searches for an answer to how to deal with the situation. It may perceive the situation as dangerous even when it’s not as it has triggered something in you. For example, burnt toast might make you panic and run out of the kitchen if you’ve been involved in a fire before. Most people would just curse and run to pop up the toast but we all deal with things differently based on experience.
So how can you get what you truly want in life when the mind is constantly feeding you with fear of the unknown or the once-tried-but-failed events in your life? Through meditation.
One of the most profound ways you can resolve conflicts between your head and heart is by shutting up that inner voice for a little while. While the mind does have its place, it often feeds you information based on fear. Allowing the heart to be your guide means first letting go of the mind for a little while. When you meditate regularly, you learn to control the mind so it chatters less. In Buddhism, it is referred to the monkey mind and you can’t let it run ramped or you may never get what you truly desire in life.
How Meditation Shuts the Mind Up
Closing your eyes, sitting in a peaceful environment, and taking breaths to help you relax will allow the mind to slow down a little. When you can sit in the quiet peace, you’ll notice your mind much more. To turn off the light on the voice, observe or judge what it is saying. It is usually negative chatter anyway so it serves you no purpose. As you pay attention to your breath and allow your third eye to open, you may notice a gentle buzzing in your body or light radiating around you. If you get into this space and the mind is quiet, you may start to get visualizations.
With your heart open wide and your mind silent, you may begin to see what you really want in life. Maybe even things you didn’t know were possible.
Conflicts in Life Between the Heart and Mind
If you’re in love with someone but they aren’t meeting your expectations, this is a good example of the mind to heart conflict. Your mind tells you to be afraid that they will take advantage of you. Maybe this comes from a past relationship or low self-esteem that nobody could truly ever love you back. Whatever your reasons, you are allowing your mind to work you up to the point you’re going to end it. There really is no logical reason based on the immediate present. You just feel afraid to get hurt and you can’t pinpoint why.
Then your loved one calls or they come home and all that uncertainty disappears. Your heart can rule your life once again and you can feel at peace in your relationship. The thing is, one day your partner may disappoint you and your heart might be tested. If this happens, the practice of meditation can come in and help you out of your hole. Trying to work with reasoning probably won’t help and your heart and mind will play tug-of-war.
Immediate Meditation Benefits
When you have an experience where you’re panicking or unsure in your life, a little meditation can help correct your anguish. Close your eyes standing, sitting, or laying. Take a deep breath in and concentrate on opening your third eye. It sits just above your brow line right in the middle of your forehead. When you can tap into the 6th chakra, you re able to see life in a different way. Continue to breathe in deeply and hold your breath at the top and bottom for a count of 4. Breathe through the thoughts that are causing fear and anxiety in your body. Open your chest up and allow your heart to be present.
The subconscious mind is important for things like how to run away from a Wholly Mammoth. Now that our lives are much less about surviving, this part of us isn’t as necessary. It does try to infiltrate every moment of our lives whether we need it or not. When you meditate, you give your heart a chance to speak your truth about what you really want. Through breathing and relaxing you allow the mind to quiet down so you can make rational decisions on a conscious level.
Author Bio: Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International.
Feeling frustrated [with yourself] and want to create a lasting change in your life?
Inspiration for Sharing the Steps to Lasting Change
As I’m writing this I’ve just returned from volunteering for 5 days in Los Angeles at Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within (#tonyrobbinsUPW) workshop. A four-day intensive that helps people breakthrough their old limiting beliefs, regain that inner confidence and certainty that they can be, do or have whatever they want in their life.
As I was preparing for this trip and on the drive back and forth to LA I began re-listening to his program called Creating Lasting Change. I’m in the process of developing a video program that will launch later this year to help people with binge eating habits overcome what’s blocked them so they can have a breakthrough to lasting change (i.e. be binge free or bulimia free).
I’m a huge fan of Tony’s work and his material on creating lasting change is great content to incorporate into my program. I’m inspired by what I saw last week during UPW and want to spread some of his ideas, sprinkled with my own flair, here on how to create a lasting change in any area of your life. For the purposes of this article I’m going to speak specifically some times to people with eating disorders, but these steps can be applied to anything including smoking, eating, drinking, drugs or any compulsive habit you feel you haven’t been able to break free from.
Changing Old Patterns, Habits or Addictions – The Foundation
Before I dive into the five steps to creating lasting change in any area of your life I want to lay a quick foundation for my eating disorder readers, but a lot of this applies universally so you may want to review just to be sure you’re checking off all the areas of self-care that you can.
If you’re restricting food or over exercising, it’s important you understand that your mind and body need essential nutrients from healthy foods to best support you during this process. I strongly encourage you to suspend your belief that you’ll get fat if you eat normally just for the duration of this process. Under eating, eating junk foods and treating your body like a garbage can isn’t going to adequately support the brain functioning you need to make lasting changes in your life.
My request to you is that you first commit to these guidelines:
Eat three moderate and balanced meals (healthy fats, proteins and carbs) for the next 30 days. Eat healthy snacks when you get hungry. Don’t restrict or be trying to diet or lose weight right now. That’s counter productive to this work and will be distracting and could take you out.
Drink 8 glasses of water a day. Tea is ok, but try to avoid caffeine as much as possible and no sugary drinks. Yes, many fruit shakes and healthy-looking drinks have tons of sugar so read labels and avoid beverages with lots of grams of sugar. No diet sodas – period.
Avoid foods advertised as “low fat”. Low fat foods are commonly compensated for with other ingredients and your body needs healthy fats, so breakthrough the brainwashing and start eating healthy fat foods again.
Get 20-30 minutes of movement a day. Can be calm or aggressive movement, but be moving your body to get your heart rate slightly elevated such as you would during a brisk walk.
Breath deeply whenever you can remember to.
Get plenty of sleep. This is a unique number for every person, but on average you will want to be sleeping between 7-8 hours a night. Just do it, ok.
Cut back on decision making including small things – decision making and rest are two of the biggest drains on willpower.
Take short naps whenever possible to keep your energy and emotional state in a centered place.
These are just some of the basic ways you can support yourself best while you’re working on yourself to create lasting changes. These are part of my personal guidelines for extreme self care and taking great care of yourself during a period of personal development is essential. If you’re not loving and caring for your whole self, things can break down. This creates the foundation for the work you’re about to begin on yourself. Don’t skimp here. Go all in or come back to do the work when you’re on track with your self-care routines.
5 Steps to Creating Lasting Change in Your Life
Step 1: Know Where You Are
I often call this step “Get Real”, but I also like the analogy of a road trip. If you pull out a map and want to go to New York, you need to know where you’re starting in order to know if you should go north, south, east or west.
In this step, you need to spend some time reflecting on where you really are. I mean…really are.
Much of the time in addictions and bad habits we spend lying to ourselves about how we are or how bad things really are. It’s time to get real about things.
If you want to make a real change in your life, you’ve got to own up to what you’re doing to yourself and those around you. Here are some questions to help you get clear on where you are and be honest with yourself:
Describe your current nutritional habits and philosophies around food (or your chosen addiction).
Describe your three most common [binge] trigger moments and the following ritual/patterns (how things play out once you’re triggered).Where are you? What are you doing? Who’s there? What’s being said? How are you feeling? What do you tell yourself in that moment? Etc
What is your earliest memory of noticing your weight/size (or whatever issue you’re dealing with)? What happened? Who was there? What was said? What did you tell yourself at the time?
What does being fat mean to you today? If overeating isn’t your challenge, what is the biggest fear you have and what’s the story you tell yourself about it?
If you were completely honest with yourself, how do your habit patterns serve you? What’s this really about for you?
These questions are meant to get you thinking and feeling. Perhaps in ways you haven’t thought or felt before. This is about realizing the brainwashing you’ve been telling yourself over the years that’s held this pattern in place.
If you’ve been honest, like really honest, you’re probably having a holy shit moment. You’re a smart person and you’re realizing that all this business is your doing. You’re the one truly causing all this suffering to go on…and you’re the only one who has the power to change it.
Both the curse AND the blessing. You’re coming to realize in one honest sit down with yourself that this thing really is all in your control. That’s the good news. Relish in knowing you are where you are and that with complete and utter honesty, you now know the truth of what you’re doing.
Self-awareness is key. Self-care and self-love must go hand in hand as you move forward. So, be mindful of how you take care of yourself through these next few steps, but don’t back down. Incredible honesty is important, and so are courage and commitment.
Heres’s a video to get you started on your process
Step 2 – Get Leverage
I’m borrowing the title for this step (leverage) from Tony Robbins. On the coattail of getting real and knowing where you are, you need to now go a little deeper.
You see, you’re in the situation you’re in because you’ve convinced yourself that where you’re at is better than your alternatives. Overeating when you’re stressed or bored is a better alternative in your mind than feeling the discomfort of stress or boredom. You’d rather do what you’re doing to yourself than face the unknown if you were to live without this behavior.
You see, some time long ago when you were developing your survival or coping skills as a young person something happened that caused you to seek out this behavior. You got a payoff or reward from overeating/purging and the brain linked up that this was a good alternative than the pain or expected pain of your alternatives.
Habits are created when the brain links up a behavior to avoid pain or go towards pleasure (more often to avoid pain). For a lot of my coaching clients, and my personal bulimic behavior, was driven by the desire to avoid the pain of those uncomfortable feelings like stress, anxiety, fear, worry, doubt, frustration, or boredom just to name a few.
Well, in this step it’s time to face the music and allow yourself to feel your feelings. You’re not going to necessarily experience all of the feelings you haven’t wanted to face, but the discomfort of continuing to do this thing you’re doing. To get connected to the suffering you’re already experiencing by not changing.
In order to overcome those powerful neuro-associations your brain has created that link your habits to seeming pleasure, you’ve got to link massive pain to continuing to do what you’ve been doing. Otherwise, the brain will go the easy route and continue to fire those patterns whenever you’re triggered.
When I work with people 1:1 in coaching I’m able to take them through a guided visualization process that really goes deep into accessing the suffering, the pain, the discomfort they’re experiencing and turn up the pressure on it so it becomes really unbearable. This forces the brain to find another, less painful route to help you survive.
To help you get leverage and begin to put the brain into a state of really experiencing the suffering that this pattern is truly causing you, sit quietly and answer the following questions:
If you were to stand outside of yourself, looking at your behaviors in this area of your life over the years and now, why are you really doing this?
What’s living this way cost you so far? List all of the costs or things you’ve lost or given up to keep this behavior going over the years.
What will it cost you in the future if you keep/start doing it again? What could you lose, who would not be in your life or what would you miss out on if you keep this up (start up again)?
It’s important you not only think about the answers, but imagine the experiences and let the feelings really sink in. Allow those uncomfortable feelings to sink down into your body, your nervous system, and truly connect with what you’ve been avoiding.
You want to get through this, you’ve got to go through this.
“The only way out is through.”
One final thought on leverage. If you create enough pain and leverage, you can change any behavior. Without leverage, this is why you’ve fallen off the wagon in the past. Really go all-in during this process and give it all you’ve got. If you want the change, you’ve got to be willing to go super deep to feel the pain at a greater level than you’ve ever allowed yourself in the past. The brain HAS to link up the pain so severely that it MUST change.
Step 3 – Create a Compelling Future
My sincere hope if you’ve made it this far is that you’re not just reading this over, but are actually taking the time to work this process. It works on you and through you if you’ll work it and give it all you’ve got.
Now that you’ve gone this far, you’re probably in a pretty yucky place. But you won’t be for long.
You’ve done the hard part – getting real with yourself about the current state of life you’re creating and then went on to get some leverage. You truly felt the suffering states you’ve been living in and the costs involved both in the past and into your future if you keep this crap up.
So stop it!
Well, ok. I know just saying “cut that stuff out!” isn’t going to get you to do it because if it could, you would have done it already.
I’m excited to tell you if you’ve truly given steps 1 and 2 your all and will now complete the rest of the steps you CAN truly create a breakthrough in your life. A lasting change that will take you to where you most want to go.
So in this step of creating a compelling future it’s all about envisioning the best possible outcome for your new life. Again, if you were a coaching client I’d walk you through a guided visualization to develop your new vision. In lieu of that, here are questions to get you going in that direction. Take these on from a quiet, reflective place or even do your own visualization process at home once you’ve read the questions.
What is life about? What’s most important to you – in yourself and the world around you?
Where do you see yourself after you’ve broken free from this habit?
What does life on your terms look like?
Who is now in your life? Who is no longer in your life?
What are you able to do or enjoy that you haven’t been able to before?
What are the best feelings that you experience most often because you’ve set yourself free?
What’s the best part of changing your life? What are you most proud of or excited about?
It’s important if you answer or visualize these questions that you do it from a place of them having already happened. So when you imagine yourself living and feeling the feelings of your new life, do so as if you’re already there. You’ve broken free – how does life feel now? Imagine in done and you’re in it…now.
Step 4 – Interrupt Your Patterns
Great, you’ve done the work to understand where you are, got leverage by feeling the pain and suffering you’re creating, and you now have a freakin compelling vision calling you forward in your life.
All of this work is laying the foundation for what’s ahead. Where the rubber meets the road you might say.
These next two steps are all about creating new memories for the brain to pull from and pathways for it to go down when you get triggered in the future.
You see, your life isn’t going to suddenly and magically change. Meaning, you won’t all of a sudden not have stress or frustration or boredom. Hardly. These things will show up at some point. Your inner work will definitely serve to create a ripple effect of change in your life, however you’ve got to be real and know that you don’t magically wake up and poof you never want to do that thing again. Well, it can happen, but for most of you we’re going to reinforce the change in two ways.
In this step it’s all about interrupting the old pathways the brain goes down that leads it to the old pattern of behavior (your addiction/habit loop) that it has so conveniently installed years ago.
Interrupting your brain’s old neuro pathways is done by either working with someone like me in the moment to break you out of your hypnosis or helping through visualization to scramble the memories and old patterns the brain has linked up.
Here’s the next video about this to help you through the next part of your process
Step 5 – Condition the New State or Pattern
You are freakin rocking this! If you’ve made it this far I want you to take a moment to acknowledge yourself for the work you’re doing. Yes, stop reading for a moment and say to yourself “I freakin’ rock!” If that’s too bold, go for “I am doing great work on myself and I know this will benefit me now and long into the future. I’m worth it.”
Cool. You are worth it and you are creating lasting change so kudos to you!!
Now, ready for the last step? Fan-tas-tic.
Here goes (apologies for calling it step 6 – there are only 5 steps! lol)
The final step to this process to creating a breakthrough to lasting change in your life is conditioning. Conditioning your mind and body for the new pattern. In brain science they know that habit loops need to be replaced, not removed.
You’ve interrupted your old pattern and the brain is now seeking a new pathway. Time to install a new pattern for it to follow that will create the change you want in your life.
For example, let’s say your old habit loop looked like you went running for tubs of ice cream or chocolate when you’d be stressed after a long day of work (ok, maybe that’s just my old pattern, but I’m sure there are a few of you out there who can totally relate).
My old pattern was that I would work hard at work all day, answering angry customer calls, taking the brunt of criticism from my boss, rushing around trying to complete way too much work in way too little time only to have this wave or mountain of stress and pressure build up inside me. By mid-day the pressure was so powerful I would decide in my mind “ok, I’m going to totally hit the grocery store on the way home and buy a ton of food and eat it all the way home.”
Just saying that thought to myself, envisioning that future after a super stressful day of work made me feel a lot better in the moments leading up to it. My trigger was the stacking of the stress all throughout my day. My pattern was to decide to binge eat, hit the store and eat everything on my commute home and purge when I walked in the door. I might do it a few more times that night, but for years I did that almost every day of my life.
Gosh, reliving that right now just makes me so sad for the young woman I was then and what I put myself through. No words to express how these feelings of sorrow about the many years of bad things I did to myself took their toll on my joy, my happiness and my body.
Wait, where was I? Oh, yes. Conditioning. Whew…got a little side tracked by the wave of emotions of remembering all that nastiness I used to do.
Conditioning. Yes. Let’s move ahead shall we?
In the previous step you worked with your imagination to break up your old patterns and in this step you’ll use that same beautiful imagination of yours to condition a new pattern.
If I were coaching myself given the story I just shared with you about how I went about my days in the peak of my bulimia, I would tell myself to work each day to visualize a new outcome.
For example, there are many alternative pathways I could follow to relieve the stress in a healthier way. Let’s say I chose to condition walking or breathing into my new pattern. So, here’s what I’d do.
All of these steps are important to create a breakthrough to lasting change. To set you free of those old addictions, habit loops and compulsive behaviors that are holding you back from living a life you love.
I’ve suggested all of these steps because I believe they all serve a purpose and worked in succession will lead to lasting change.
On a final note I want to talk about desire and commitment. Without first a burning desire for change, making a decision to do it and the work to get there and a commitment to never give up you’ll fall off the tracks. For me, after 20 years of yo-yo eating disorder behaviors where I would and I wouldn’t and I would and I wouldn’t I finally found my way to lasting change because of a fateful moment when I made a lasting decision, backed with a burning desire and a commitment to never go back. That moment was in 2005 and I’ve had lasting recovery from bulimia ever since.
I know it’s possible because if I can do it, you can do it. I’ll link to a few final videos you may want to check out that I made about making the decision and believing in possibility. These two areas of transformation really made the lasting difference for me.
I say with all my heart that I know this can work for anyone with any condition. It is possible if you’re willing to go through it to do it. There is no going around. You must go through to get to the other side.
From someone standing on the other side, I invite you through your tunnel now. I invite you to step into your pain that you’ve been avoiding and go through some minimal discomfort in order to come out the other side a new person. A person who can be with anyone, can face anything in their life and can be, do or have whatever they want for themselves.
It is possible. I’m living proof it can be done.
Will you join me on the other side? If so, share a comment below or email me privately to let me know how this process has changed your life. I read every email and reply to them personally, so I’d love to hear from you…soon.
During a group coaching and connection call I had with my secret Facebook group I was reminded how everything we feel is a result of the story we tell ourselves.
You see, the quality of your life, your present experience, the emotions you feel are a result of the story you’re making up in your mind.
Every situation. Every moment. They’re all stories.
Every thought you have about the past or future is a story. The data of life is filtered by our brain and stored in our mind as a story about the way things are, the way other people are…and even the way we are.
Right now while you’re reading this your mind is processing the information you’re taking in and there’s a dialogue going on inside your head. It may sound like…”Is this helping me?” or “I’m so tired, I should get off the computer and go to bed” or “It’s relaxing to read Polly’s posts and I always feel a little better when I do.”
Whatever your present emotion is it’s always determined by two things: (1) what you’re focused on and (2) the story you’re telling yourself about what you’re focused on.
Here’s my video about our storytelling and how to create better feeling emotions with intentional storytelling.
To summarize…you’ve got to pay attention to how you’re feeling and the story you are making up about what’s in front of you (or the past or the future you’re focused on) if you want to begin to feel better.
It seems like a lot of people have conditioned themselves with old patterns of storytelling that are disempowering, negative, and even hurtful towards themselves. It’s no wonder we’re so mentally exhausted by the end of the day…we’re doing battle every day with our mind!
If you had to go through life with a close friend who was always talking to you the way you talk to yourself you’d either cut them out of your life or slap ‘em! At the very least I hope you’d say something like “Geez! Do you always have to have such a pessimistic outlook?! Can’t you just see the bright side for a change?!”
Ok, maybe your story isn’t negative 100% of the time. Yet if you’re not living as happily as you’d like I guarantee it’s because of your old mind tapes, that disempowering storyteller in your mind, is stuck in a negative groove and keeps spitting out “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s right” about the world.
Know what I’m saying?! Uh huh…I thought you would.
If you want to be happier, you can start by noticing when you’re not feeling good. I know…seems counterintuitive. Yet this is where the problem lies. Let me explain.
When you begin to notice you’re in a bad feeling place you can then begin to become more aware your negative storyteller. Listen in for what story she’s making up that has things not going well or upset with the people around you or worse if she’s taken to beating you up for something you’ve done or haven’t done.
You’re always telling yourself a story, so start noticing the story you’re telling yourself throughout your day. Then the next step to feeling better is to begin training your brain to see the brighter side of things.
It takes practice. Boy does it take practice. [Just being real with you.]
Look…what’s wrong is always available. But so is what’s right!
Come on. You’re already living in the story you choose, so begin to be more deliberate with your storytelling!
Start telling yourself a brighter, better feeling story. Tell yourself empowering things about your life, the people around you and especially about the way you are. I guarantee you’ll begin to feel a little better each time.
Remember: practice makes permanent.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Better feeling thoughts slowly build to a better feeling life.
I hope you’ll watch the video earlier for a little further explanation about how choose your thoughts and create new story with “bridge words”.
Your practice assignment: I invite you to notice the stories in your mind this week. Practice whenever you can noticing the story you’re telling yourself. Once you notice a negative story intentionally shift the story and you’ll shift your experience (emotions) along with it.
One good week of practice in shifting the story can begin to build momentum in a new direction. It’s like a new muscle. A better-feeling-storytelling-muscle. (…sort of has a nice ring to it, right?)
Practice your new storytelling muscle each day and let me know how it feels after a few days.
Here…let’s take a quick minute to start your practice right NOW.
What’s your present emotion?
Really…I’m asking you to pause for 5 seconds and check in with yourself and feel for your present emotion.
Whatever it is…is that the way you want to feel right now?
Would you like to feel a little better with your first practice? Great!
Ok, now that you know what you’re feeling look at what’s the story you are telling yourself in the background. Go ahead…listen for the story.
Just notice it.
Is it something that happened this week? Something that someone or you did earlier today? Are you in the future…perhaps afraid or anxious about something?
Ok, just notice what it is.
Now, what’s a better feeling story you can tell yourself about whatever is going on in the background of your mind? What can you tell yourself instead and feel better? Lean towards a slightly better feeling story (or step up to a really good feeling story!)
What story would move you up the emotional scale to a better feeling place? Just tweak the story slightly more positively or go more general about the topic. Shift the story just a little…or a lot…and your corresponding emotion will be better.
Did you do it? If you told a better story, now check in with yourself and ask “what’s my present emotion?”
Feeling a little better? Slightly or a lot?
This is the practice of living a deliberate life and it begins in your mind.
You have the power to shift your emotions…that fast.
Your experience of life really is up to YOU. Do you get that?!
You get to choose what you focus on and what you make up about what is. The story is yours to make up. Don’t be a sloppy storyteller.
Start to tell a better feeling story and you’ll feel better.
Take this into your week and I’d love to hear how it goes after a few days. If you really start to get good at this, you can shift the story quickly. I practice this all the time so I’m really good at first noticing when I don’t feel good and then shifting the story. Just takes practice to feel better.
It’s a lifestyle choice. Living in a beautiful state as much as possible.
Choose to feel better, do a little work and you will feel better.
“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.”
I’m in a personal inquiry around playing a bigger game – and stepping up! It requires me to examine where and when I’m not playing a big enough game.
I received a letter of appreciation from a girl who lived in Australia thanking me for helping her find her way out of her eating disorder this week. I shared her story with my coach and she appreciated the story and acknowledged me for the work I’m doing to help people change their lives.
But, being a great coach she wasn’t done there. She called me back and said, “You don’t realize you’re already an international leader of transformation [for eating disorders]. It’s time to step up and start playing a bigger game.”
Damn coaches. They’re always right!!
As I started to take on the inquiry, “Ok, how do I start playing a bigger game?” it got me thinking of some things that I think directly relate to addictions like overeating, smoking or drinking.
Two key things keep us from taking massive action to make changes:
Lack of certainty – when we feel uncertain, or worse believe something is hopeless, we take little action and get little results. Instead, when we believe – or have faith – that something is possible, perhaps something amazing is possible, we take much more or even massive action towards it. Our certainty, our belief in possibility, naturally guides us into actions and the path towards the outcome we want. If it’s overcoming an addiction, we must first believe it’s possible and then possible for us if we’re ever going to do anything to make changes.
Lack of confidence – this is when we have thoughts of self-doubt or lack of belief in ourselves. I can relate to this one after living 20 years with an addiction. When you get locked into the endless loop of addiction where you say you’re going to stop, slip up, try again and slip again eventually you stop having faith in yourself to keep your word. Try having confidence when you can’t even trust yourself for one day.
The downward, self-fulfilling spiral of self-doubt can seem bottomless. The negative momentum of not believing in yourself attracts more like it to you. As your inner self-esteem begins to fade, the inner critic gets louder and more aggressive. After years of this self-abuse you’re a mere fraction of the powerful woman you once were. While to the world you can look accomplished and like you have your life together, inside you feel like a loser who’s both helpless and hopeless.
Yuck. That feels horrible just to think about.
OK…OK. Let’s move on to solutions shall we?
As I’m in the process of looking for ways to personally build up my self-confidence I’ve been studying teachings and receiving coaching in this area and wanted to share some insights for your journey to greater confidence, too.
Ways to Regain Your Power and Overcome Self-Doubt:
Take a Morale Inventory – I like the quote “know thyself” and this has been showing up a lot lately in my research. What a moral inventory could look like is finding 15-30 minutes to sit quietly alone somewhere while you take stock of your assets as a human being. You’re looking for any and all assets. Give yourself credit for anything! Notice the qualities that make you a good human being. The things you do, the way you treat people, your inner qualities that make up who you are. Take the full 30 minutes if you can so you can to build a really long list. Once you’ve completed your list, reflect on it like a 3rd Pretend you’d just made this list of a person you really, really admire and then notice how great it feels to realize that person…is you!
Celebrate Small Wins – with the addiction cycle and trying to quit, slipping back and trying again we feel like we just can’t get traction. Well, find an area of your life you do feel empowered in, maybe another small habit or something you’ve been procrastinating on, and make the change. Look for easy wins. Don’t belittle the importance of this process. When you set a goal, get it done and reflect on the win you’re re-training your brain to see you as a success. You begin to see yourself as a person who keeps their word and achieves what they set out to do.
Make External Commitments and Keep Them – put yourself out there a few times for others and follow through. This, too, will show you that you CAN be trusted. You are reliable and can commit and follow through on what you commit to.
Stand Up for Yourself – whenever you have an opportunity to stand up for yourself or tell someone your position on something, even if they could disagree or be upset with it, do it. We didn’t come here to get along with everyone or to do everything other people want us to do. It’s OUR choice how to live. Stand up for what you want, need and will allow into your life. This will fill your inner worthiness well. Big time.
Power Pose It – You’ve probably heard of the research that came out of Harvard years ago about how empowering it is for us to stand in a powerful pose for as little as two minutes. Standing like Wonder Woman, hands on our hips, head held high and breathing deeply can alter our emotional state of inner confidence quite dramatically actually. Try it every day and you’ll begin to build that inner confidence momentum.
Positive Self-talk – this one takes mindfulness, or at least a really good system of reminders. Throughout your day look for opportunities to praise, appreciate and talk kindly to yourself. I have morning rituals where I say nice things to myself and about myself every day. This stuff works.
Attitude of Gratitude – you’ve probably heard this one, too. Living with a grateful and loving heart is huge for being in a high vibration. Most of us are so focused on what’s wrong with us, the world and our lives that we don’t spend nearly as much time in appreciation. It’s a practice. Like push ups. Try it for a week…
Make a List of Your Accomplishments – either make a list of your wins in life, things you’ve done that you’re proud of, or each day make a list of 3 things you completed that day. As you begin to reflect each day on your accomplishments you will think you’re more successful. That will allow you to carry over that success muscle into the area you’re wanting a breakthrough in.
Which one of these will you take on this week? And what if you took on one a week for a month how much farther along could you be in 30 days?
Remember, if you’re trying to overcome a bad habit or addiction, the two areas you may need to work on in order to really decide and commit areBELIEVING IT’S POSSIBLE and BELIEVING IN YOURSELF. Once these two are in place you’re ready to step up and kick that habit for good!
I hope this has been helpful and I welcome your comments or questions.
I was reminded yesterday after a coaching call with a client how important possibility thinking is in changing our lives.
When we believe we can change our lives, we can.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right.” – Henry Ford
I share in the video below how in 2005 I created a new belief in possibility; the idea that I could change and stop binge eating forever by seeing someone else change.
I said to myself, “If that person can change, I can, too.”
There’s a lot of scientific data that says that if we can see someone else do it we begin to believe we can.
I think this is what helps people in group settings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous (among other places) find the leverage they need to stop their addictions. Where do you get your inspiration to change from?
I hope you’ll watch the video and learn how I went from resigned about a 20-year addiction to binge eating to believing in possibility again.
I’m so confident with possibility thinking, a decision and commitment to stop your addiction anyone can change.
I’ve been newly inspired to start a 30 Day Challenge by a dear friend of mine as we were out on a hike this morning. My friend Jenevieve (Jen) is stepping into a 30 Day Challenge for herself where she’ll be working on self-care; putting her needs first in her mind, taking care of herself so she has more to give (her kids/loved ones) and serve people better. She’s a dynamo and I’m so excited to be entering into this 30 day challenge with her.
I’m stepping up to my 30 Day Challenge which is to replace my negative self-talk and limiting beliefs that sound like, “I don’t know how to sell anything” or “I can’t sell anything.”
Both are bullshit and have been holding me back for decades and I’m saying ENOUGH!
As a lifelong habit hacker and teacher of how to replace bad habits with success habits I am so excited to take on this challenge!
I’ve been wanting to create my own products for years and have let these little limiting beliefs and thoughts that I created when I was six years old keep me playing small.
Not any more!
My bad ass self is aware of what’s going on and is stepping up to turn all of this around. NOW.
Here’s how you can join us, share your support and get support in return:
JOIN ME! I would love it if you’d join me in my 30 Day Challenge by choosing an area of your life that you’re frustrated with or just aren’t seeing the results you want and know you need to change. What’s that thing you need to do or what’s the area of your life that’s ready for a change now? Click and share it on my Facebook post NOW.
SUPPORT ME! – my commitment to my friend Jen (and now you!) is to post a video every day on Facebook of what I’m learning, my progress, and all of the insights I’m applying into my life. If you join me in this 30 day challenge, let’s support each other so share on my page what you’re learning and how you’re growing, too. Let’s have fun with it!
LET’S GO LIVE! – I’m planning to do a weekly live call on Facebook using Go Live (have you seen this in action?) I’ll do a Go Live every Friday through the end of the year. The first one will be Friday, December 1st at 1:30pm PT (California)/4:30pm ET (New York). Each week will be at a different time on Friday so like my Facebook page now and I’ll announce when they’ll be through Facebook each week. I expect to do other Go Lives this month spontaneously because this challenge has me newly invigorated and wanting to take massive action…so expect surprises along the way – I am!
I invite your support and welcome you to play with me. I really could use your love and encouragement and participation and want this to be fun!
I hope you’ll join the Facebook Go Lives, like the posts, chat and ask me questions or let me know how you’re doing on your challenge. If you’re not following my page yet, here’s the link:
I sense so much hope from this woman and her life’s message. To read about what she’s been through and how she is starting to rebuild a happy life for herself is inspiring.
Nikki was a fashion model who landed the cover of coveted magazines such as Maxim and Vogue in the peak of her career. While from the outside her photos portray a woman living the life many people dream of, beneath the surface she was dealing with severe depression, sexual abuse, anorexia, alcohol and drug abuse and much more.
The picture on these covers told a different story than what the hurt young girl on the inside was dealing with.
I had an opportunity to sit down and speak with Nikki about her memoir and ask her about her journey and life today. To listen to our interview, click below:
Making a Decision
One thing that was very clear to me in reading Nikki’s memoir was there was a turning point, a decision point, when she very clearly made a choice to take her life in a new direction. In reading and hearing Nikki during our interview relate how similar her mom’s life was to her own including the childhood abuse, the mental illness, eating disorder, and struggles with alcohol to the point that Nikki and her brother had an intervention with their mom to bring her back from the brink, it was clear the many obstacles Nikki faced growing up.
While I wish the story of Nikki’s mom had a happy ending, I’m afraid her mom lost her battle with alcoholism and eventually died when Nikki was in her early 20’s. That moment, that painful moment when Nikki lost her mom, was her turning point. It was a real wake up call to Nikki that if she kept going on with her life the way she was living she would no doubt have the same fateful and tragic ending as her mom did.
Nikki decided in that moment to get help. To take care of herself. To start a new course.
She said during our interview that she could see the signs of how sick she was and if she didn’t do anything she would end up dead and she didn’t want that. It was the first ever time she decided to love herself and take care of herself.
She decided she could mourn and grieve the loss of her mother, but not let it keep her from getting better. Instead, she got up and got help.
Nikki shares that while her modeling career was lucrative at times, she was also enjoying the high-flying lifestyle that comes with a modeling career and when she needed treatment she couldn’t afford the $500 a day that it can cost for in-patient treatment programs. She realized she would have to go it on her own and do what she could with what she had.
Nikki took steps to find a recovery mentor who worked with her to go through a recovery bible. She said the relationship with her recovery mentor and the support of her then-boyfriend really helped her along the way.
Courage to Keep Commitment
I found Nikki’s ability to decide to get support and help herself through recovery very courageous. She was strong and not only walked away from a successful career – albeit one that was killing her and causing her a lot of suffering – even when she didn’t know what she was going to do next. She also had to know the road ahead wasn’t going to be easy with the internal demons she faced every day.
I asked her how she kept her commitment to her recovery and didn’t relapse or fall back into the throws of her many old habits. On the one hand she said she didn’t feel very courageous. She said she saw it as survival. She said growing up in her family with all of the abuse and craziness she learned to do what she needed to do to stay alive. Recovery and the processes she went through day in and day out were a survival response to what she felt was otherwise going to take her life.
Nikki also said that making the decision to help herself and sticking to it no matter what it looked like was key for her. She said she clung to the idea, “I’m going to get better.” She tried different things including art therapy, journaling and said her newfound connection to God gave her inner strength when she said she couldn’t go on. Have a listen to the recording to hear how important a factor she says God played in her recovery and how she leans on his support each and every day.
I asked Nikki to share about any practices or rituals she engages in to keep herself on track and work her recovery. She named a few and I’ll do my best to summarize them:
1) Morning spiritual time – each morning before she gets out of bed she spends time listening to something to feed her soul. She likes Joyce Meyer’s podcasts and has listened to them for years. Before she starts her day with something like social media, she fills her mind with a dose of spiritual renewal. (Side note: here’s a link to my morning process if you’re interested)
2) Prayer and Connecting with God – she prays a lot, turns things she can’t handle over to God and connects and communes with him throughout her day. She said that she struggles daily and God has her back and helps her along the way when the darkness creeps up or she can’t handle things.
3) Gratitude and Journaling – journaling was a wonderful way for her to get her emotions and stories out of her where they couldn’t torment her from within any longer. She also practices lots and lots of gratitude for her life.
4) Laughing – she realized that taking life so seriously wasn’t working out so well, so she’s decided to lightening up. She surrounds herself carefully with people, places and things that make her feel good (including funny movies and uplifting music). Her friends are a source of light and laughter for her and she only allows things into her environment that support who she is now.
Rebuilding a New Life
Nikki spent the majority of her life living into an identity that other people thought of her. She took on the horrible things people said about her and to her and let that guide her down a dark and sad road that could have eventually killed her.
Today, Nikki still works on herself. She’s guided by the love and strength she finds in God and knows that she couldn’t do it without his support.
I think she’s on the road to becoming a very inspiring woman and will touch many lives. I see her spending the rest of her life helping many people because she had the courage to be vulnerable and share her shameful past. She doesn’t let her past shame her, but instead it has become her foundation to build an amazing life with. A life that I believe will touch, move and inspire many people along the way.
I hope you listen to the recording so you can hear her strength and softness. Nikki never claims to have things all figured out and she admits to working on herself each day. But she is standing up for herself and taking steps to chart a new course for her future. A future where her beautiful soul will shine on for many to see how you can overcome many of life’s dark challenges and stand tall and be happy.
Please share any feedback or questions for me or Nikki in the comments below.
In this chapter on Principle #7 – Social Investment there was a combination of personal and professional evidence for where our happiness and performance at work come from. And it’s amazing!
Social Networks Are Crucial for a Happy Life
In this chapter Achor shares how very often people under stress or overwhelm go inward. They retreat and pull away from people; some in order to focus and some thinking they’ll do better on their own.
Achor says that, “The most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Instead of turning inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support…Not only are these people happier, but they are more productive, engaged, energetic, and resilient.”
I love the study he notes in this chapter that he refers to as the Harvard Men study. It’s the longest running psychological study of all time and has followed 268 men from their entrance into college in the late 1930’s to today. Lots of data has been gathered in those 70+ years.
What shocked me – and I absolutely adore – is the director for this study for the last 40 years summed up his findings in one word when asked by the magazine Atlantic Monthy…”Love – full stop.”
L – O – V – E
That’s the answer…right there!
In fact, they said “70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.”
Read that again, please.
“…our relationships with other people matter…more than anything else in the world.”
If you’ve been on this planet for any time you’ve probably come to this conclusion yourself or had a hunch anyway. But this study has some profound conclusions about relationships, social bonds and social support.
Achor says, “When we have a community of people we can count on – spouse, family, friends, colleagues – we multiply our emotional, intellectual, and physical resources. We bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose.”
Wow and wow again.
I loved this chapter. It ties right in with what I have learned in my life and that is that we are love and we need love to thrive.The social interactions we encounter with friends and colleagues raise our happiness baseline permanently. Even simple water cooler chatter if it’s positive and friendly can improve our happiness and performance.
The Happiest 10% Among Us
There was a study conducted called “Very Happy People”. You know, those…outliers. The people on Facebook and Instagram who are constantly smiling and rejoicing with gratitude at how great their life is and what they love about the world.
Yeah, those people.
Well, in this study of the very happy people they found “there was one – and only one – characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.”
“The more social support you have, the happier you are.”
Talk about a [success] formula right there!
If you get nothing else out of this book or my posts about this book, please do yourself a favor and make some friends or strengthen the bonds you have with those you already have. Invest time in your social support network. Make time for friends at the office, call or spend some time with your friends. And although the author doesn’t say it, I don’t think it matters one bit the number of social relationships you have as long as YOU think you have a lot of social support. This can mean a small intimate group of friends you know have your back and you adore or a larger circle you swim in of lots of acquaintances that brighten your day and help you feel connected to people.
Happy and Thriving Thanks to Social Connections
What’s fascinating as you read in The Happiness Advantage about the social support and connections that help us thrive and be happy is how fundamental it is. It’s part of our biological makeup even. We have an innate need to form social bonds. I remember reading about how babies who weren’t handled after birth have died. I don’t remember the studies or stats, but it was shocking to me how fundamental connection with other humans is to our well-being.
Achor reports, “When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.” He talks about how people with fewer connections and interactions socially suffer poor heath and are more likely to suffer from depression.
This probably doesn’t come as a s surprise, but the impact is a lot bigger than I realized before and it can even extend the length of our lives.Being a part of a breast cancer support group can actually double a woman’s life expectancy. Damn! Connect people, for heaven’s sake…connect! Connect!
Work Performance and Success Improved by Social Support
I won’t go too in depth like Achor does in this book because the purpose of the book is business based. Yet, allow me to share some valuable insights he shares in this chapter about work performance being boosted due to our social support system at the office.
“…over the long haul, employees with more of these interactions become protected from the negative effects of job strain.”
“psychological resourcefulness” and…”employees can work for longer hours, with increased focus, and under more difficult conditions.”
This sure sounds like what I experienced during the dot com boom days in Silicon Valley. People were like machines (and many still are) because the work environments were made so conducive to interacting and social connections. Just look at Google or any of the big companies that facilitate a lot of social interaction and fun in their work environments.
“…individuals who invest in their social support systems are simply better equipped to thrive in even the most difficult circumstances, while those who withdraw rom the people around them effectively cut off every line of protection they have available, at the very moment they need them most.”
“…social support is a prescription for happiness and an antidote to stress, it is also a prime contributor of achievement in the workplace.”
People we enjoy interacting with at work…”actually fuels individual innovation, creativity, and productivity.” Not to mention motivation and overall performance.
If you’ve ever stayed at a company and enjoyed your work environment I’d bet it had a lot to do with the people you worked with. Achor talked about how working with people we enjoy far outweighs status or bigger paychecks. People are more successful and self-motivated when they do work they enjoy…and do it with people they love doing it with.
He goes on to talk for quite a while about how valuable it is to have great interactions with our colleagues and managers. Great leaders should encourage social interactions in the office because it leads to greater payoffs. A study at IBM found something like every email contact a person had added $948 in revenue to the bottom line.
I’d like to sum it up with Achor’s statement, “all it takes, we have seen, is a commitment to frequent and positive social interaction.” Take that to the bank if you’re a business owner or manager!
I hope this chapter and the insights you’ve just learned about can help you in some way in your personal and work life. A simple prescription for happiness and thriving is really just spreading love and feeling the love as best you can. Invest in your social network, even when things seem busy or overwhelming. There is no greater predictor it appears to your longevity or well being that feeling connected to other people.
With love and light,
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The sub title for this chapter is “How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Ones by Minimizing Barriers to Change.” I’ll explain a little later in the post what the 20 Second Rule is that Achor refers to in Principle #6 and how to incorporate it into your life. Let’s dive into this chapter from the beginning…
Habits as a Key to Success in Any Area of Life
If there’s anything that is a key to success in any area of life I’ve ever studied it’s having success habits. Highly successful people have found the practices, or rituals/routines, that support their effectiveness and they stick with them. They’ve ensured success by making it a habit.
Achor explains that most often we know what we should do to be successful at behind healthy, for example, such as eating more vegetables, being active each day, reducing intake of toxins like caffeine, sugar and alcohol and getting enough rest. Knowing what we should do and actually doing those things are where the rubber meets the road and successful people get ahead because they DO those things (or don’t do non-helpful things). Successful people have mastered the game of thriving by introducing and sticking with rituals, or habits, that support their chosen path and not engaging in bad habits that take them off course.
This chapter is all about how to introduce good habits into our life and actually make them effective – or stick. The 20 Second Rule I’ll explain in a bit also defines how we can stop repeating bad habits we want to let go of once and for all.
Habits, Biology and Neuroassociations in Your Brain
I’d like to take a moment before we dive into biology and your brain and remind you that you are not the same person you were when you were born. Not only physically (as in every cell in your body is new about every 7 years) but also as the personality you consider yourself as “you.” You didn’t come into this world with the habits and behavior characteristics that you have today; be they a good listener, funny, a good learner or great athlete. All of those characteristics you established along the way and they make up who you are now.
I often have to remind clients of this during coaching sessions when they say things like, “That’s just the way I am” or “I’ve always done that” or “That’s my normal pattern.” Actually, the way you are you grew into; you developed these patterns over time. You just forgot that you picked these traits or habits up as you went. Now they’re just a part of who you consider yourself to be. But they weren’t always there and that means that you can in almost every case change them if you want.
Achor talks about one of his favorite early leaders in the field of psychology, William James. He taught at Harvard in the late 1800’s and published Principles of Psychology, a huge textbook for the field. Achor introduces in the book that James talked about “Humans are biologically prone to habit, and it is because we are ‘mere bundles of habits’ that we are able to automatically perform many of our daily tasks – from brushing our teeth first thing in the morning to setting the alarm before climbing into be at night.”
I love the study of habits and I never knew about James’ work before reading it in Achor’s book. James referred to introducing habits as “daily strokes of effort” in that they’re routines or practices that are performed each day or consistently that create the habit. “A tendency to act,” he wrote, “only becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the uninterrupted frequency with which the actions actually occur, and the brain ‘grows’ to their use.”
What James was referring to were the web of neuroassociations that are created in the human brain when we interact with our environment. The brain is a survival mechanism designed over tens of thousands of years to survive and perpetuate the species by warning us about danger. (I think there’s a lot more going on here, but let’s keep this common story alive for now) The brain is designed to conserve energy and links up or creates short cuts (neuroassociations) in the brain wiring that tie things together so they can be recalled and repeated more quickly and efficiently. When we do an action once and get a good result the brain remembers it. If we do the same action ten times for ten days the brain is creating stronger and stronger associations. I want to add my hypothesis that adding an emotional charge to the result also impacts how quickly the brain engrains the behavior (momentum).
These neuroassociations are designed to serve us so we don’t have to remember the route to work each day when we pull out of the driveway or how to tie our shoes each time we get dressed. The brain also filters out things we don’t need and short cuts, or remembers, things we think we’ll need or will serve us in the future.
“The more we perform a particular action, the more connections form between the corresponding neurons. (This is the origin of the common phrase ‘cells that fire together, wire together.’) The stronger this link, the faster the message can travel down the pathway. This is what makes the behavior seem second nature or automatic.” Hence why clients say the things I mentioned earlier. They’ve forgotten they practiced this behavior and it just seems “normal” now.
These habits, or associations in our brain, can serve us tremendously. For example, this is how athletes or skilled musicians become excellent in their field. The same thing that can make us a talented athlete or musician is the same mechanism that can create addictions or unwanted habits that drive us nuts and make us do things we don’t consciously believe we want to do.
New Habits and Why Willpower is Not Enough
So now you have the insight to know what is going on when you create a new habit. You now understand that you just need to practice to make it perfect – or permanent. Create a new morning ritual of exercise, or eating healthier or sitting down to write our novel each day. These things we know will make us more successful in moving towards what we want…so why do we so often fail at new resolutions or rituals?
One of the big reasons: Willpower. Or lack of it.
We often rely on sheer willpower to keep up the new habit we want to reinforce. I often picture creating a new habit as a way of turning a really big ocean liner in a new direction on the open ocean. It doesn’t turn on a dime – it’s more of a gradual change that occurs and pretty soon we’re on our new course. Changing habits can be like this and discipline is like the rudder and willpower is the energy that creates the course correction.
The challenge with relying on our willpower is that it is like an engine and requires fuel and when the tank gets depleted, we lose willpower and the ship (brain) goes back to its old course. This is when we might say things like, “I fell off the wagon” or “I gave in” or “The urge took over and I felt helpless to resist it.” I’ve said this to myself hundreds of times and hear it from my clients when willpower was what they’re relying on to make the change.
Let me explain a little of what I’ve learned about willpower and share what Achor conveys in the book as well. By the way, an excellent resource if you want to dive deeper into the study of willpower is the book Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal or watch her Google Talk or TED Talk on willpower. She does a great job of going into the details so check those out if you want more information.
As I said, willpower is like an engine which requires fuel to power it and it can be depleted and then we run out of willpower. Achor shares about experiments that were done related to willpower and in the end the researchers wrote, “many widely different forms of self-control draw on a common resource, or self-control strength, which is quite limited and hence can be depleted readily.” Think of it as a small bottle of water you have to last you all day. If you drink it up too fast, you’ll go thirst by afternoon.
This is often why we give in to our urges or old habits by the afternoon or evening. Too many people (and I was this way when I was bulimic) who come to me for coaching or write in about their story share how they wake up in the morning with the resolve to make this the last day and by the afternoon they’ve succumbed to that monster urge, bad habit or vice they’ve been trying so hard to resist. They’re mostly relying on willpower and don’t understand how it works.
As we’ve learned, the brain has created neuroassociations that wire old habits in place and it takes energy and resolve to steer the brain in a new direction. Willpower is one of the resources we can tap to put new habits into place to overcome the old patterns in our brain. You see, the brain wants to naturally follow the path of least resistance. It has already learned and stored the path of least resistance to success and it’s going to try to execute it whenever it sees an opportunity. As the author says, “the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.” This is why we feel the struggle to get out of bed once we’ve made a commitment to running in the morning or to not eat that sweet in the evening after dinner. We’re fighting homeostasis and inertia.
Achor says, “we are drawn – powerfully, magnetically – to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia.” I refer to this inertia like the grooves of an old vinyl record. The record spins round and round and it takes energy to pick up the needle and change to a new groove, a new song.
The same is true for telling a new story about our lives.
Whether we’re trying to change an old habit pattern or tell a new story about the way our lives are we have to pick up the needle and with intention and consistency move over to a new groove. Eventually that groove will feel normal, but in the beginning the old groove will be very easy to slip back into due to inertia.
[video here about grooves of the record/changing habit]
Activation Energy and the 20 Second Rule
To overcome our own inertia – or old habit patterns – that create the old path of least resistance we need to address a few other areas of our lives in order to create these new success habits.
The author shares a term used by a psychologist named Csikszentmihalyi called “activation energy”. Achor says “In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit. Otherwise human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again.”
When looking at activation energy in new habit creation we’re addressing three areas including time, choices and mental and physical effort.
Time and mental/physical effort: This is where the 20 Second Rule comes in. Achor talked about how he wanted to learn to play the guitar and when he tried to get in the habit of playing it each night he failed at first. When he later stepped back and looked at his approach he realized that he wasn’t following the path of least resistance because he had stored his guitar in the closet down the hall and it was much easier to grab the remote and click on the TV each night instead. To turn this around he removed the batteries from the remote and moved them 20 seconds away from the chair and set up a stand next to his favorite chair where his guitar would sit. By doing this he had removed the 20 seconds it took to get the guitar out of the closet and added 20 seconds to turning the TV on at night.
Well, it worked.
He went from playing guitar a couple times in a month to nearly every day. He put his desired behavior or new habit on the path of least resistance and his old, undesirable habit on the path of more resistance.
“Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”
I call this setting ourselves up to win. Sounds super simple – and it is – but also super effective.
Choices: another area we want to realize we need to set ourselves up to win is in creating or eliminating choices. Going back to willpower, every time we have to tap our brain to make choices about doing or not doing something we’re tapping into our willpower account and depleting it.
Achor says, “the key to reducing choices is setting up and following a few simple rules.” For example if you want to create a habit of exercising each day then decide in advance the what, where and when. Don’t leave yourself with choices when you wake up like “Should I work out this morning or after work?” or “Should I play tennis or go for a run?” or “Do I want to work out for an hour or just 30 minutes today?” Too many choices will deplete our willpower, so decide on these things in advance. I think this is why structured eating plans show good results for people with eating disorders. For me, in my race training I set up the entire schedule for 8-12 weeks before each race in advance so each week I already know what I need to do and I just need to determine what day I’ll complete what needs to get done. I reduce the choices and decisions.
Achor added that, “rules are especially helpful during the first few days of a behavior-changing venture, when it’s easy to stray off course. Gradually, as the desired action becomes more habitual, we can become more flexible.”
I’ve seen clients who go the path of structured eating plans come off of them after a few weeks and some don’t have the willpower reserves enough so they stay with structured eating for 3-6 months until they feel solid in their addiction recovery.
How To Apply These Insights to Bulimia Recovery
I would be remiss as a bulimia recovery coach if I didn’t share some thoughts on how this information can help you if you’re struggling to stop binging and purging.
Let me start by asking you to consider “What if bulimia were just a bad habit?” Would you feel more empowered that you could change your habit given what you’ve just read above? If this were true, could you stop looking at this thing called bulimia as if it were a “disorder “ or “disease” you have? Instead, it’s a habit you created and habits can be changed (or better replaced).
Here are my insights for incorporating this information for recovering bulimics:
Identify the activation energy – a habit is three things: 1) trigger or cue, 2) routine or ritual and 3) reward or payoff. Knowing what your triggers are and getting out ahead of them can be the first step to stopping the habit. Without the trigger – or having a new routine or ritual that increases the activation energy to start the routine or binge – can be one way to interrupt the old patterns. Make it harder to or avoid activating the triggers, put more time and/or effort in the way between the trigger and the routine. Remember the 20 second rule. This could look like not have trigger or binge related foods anywhere you could get to them easily.
Reduce choices – keep your food resources stocked with foods you hate to binge on, but are good for you or consider a structured food plan to reduce the choices you have to make each day.
Create rules – once you have identified the typical patterns that create the routine, come up with rules that can support you replacing the routine or avoiding it with new rules. Example: I had a coaching client who would get lonely each afternoon working away in her cubicle. When she needed a break from work she would go down to the cafeteria and was tempted by all of the sugary foods. Instead, she set an alarm each afternoon that reminded her to find a way to connect with someone before she felt lonely. Often all she had to do was walk down a few cubicles and connect with a co-worker or call a friend to feel better. I’ve had clients that just needed to take a 10 – 30 minute break from the busy-ness of their day to get horizontal or rest. This can help recharge your willpower gas tank.
Practice new habits in advance – a technique I work with my clients on is visual motor rehearsal. This is what Olympic athletes use to mentally rehearse or practice their sport when they’re not actually out training. The same technique can be used to prepare yourself for those stressful or triggering moments and rehearse a different pattern. Coming up with a new response to the mental monster who urges you to reach for the cookie or treat can be very effective in stopping the binge before it occurs.
As a final thought, remember that the key to creating habits is consistent or repeated practice of your new rituals until the new actions are the default, or new normal, for your brain. Once you’ve retrained your brain to act in a manner consistent with your new habit or behavior, you can be less alert (mindful) for the old patterns or habits coming up. Awareness, practice, repetition and rewards signal to the brain to keep doing things the way you want it to.
Remember, don’t beat yourself up if you have a slip. Get back on your path and keep going!
Change is yucky in the beginning,
messy in the middle and beautiful in the end.
Your brain will try to follow the old path of least resistance for a while so just keep at it. Never stop believing you can do this. Never ever.
I found this chapter and the concept behind Principle #5 The Zorro Circle pretty straightforward. The metaphor Achor uses about the Zorro Circle comes from the movie where as a student Zorro was guided by his teacher to work within a smaller circle during his training until he mastered what was right in front of him. The teacher drew a small circle around Zorro and told him to stay within it while he trained and learned to be a great swordsman. Eventually, Zorro mastered that area and then his teacher expanded the circle a little more and a little more until Zorro was a master swordsman second to none.
The Zorro Circle – Circle of Control
The idea Achor is conveying in this chapter is that when we can master or feel in control of the circle immediately around us, we feel confident and successful.
“One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future. Yet, when our stresses and workloads seem to mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are often the first things to go, especially when we try to tackle too much at once. If, however, we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feelings of control so crucial to performance. By first limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching those efforts have the intended effect, we accumulate resources, knowledge, and confidence to expand the circle, gradually conquering a larger and larger area”.
When I read through this chapter it hit me how this relates to the coaching work I enjoy with clients. I refer to it as an empowered or disempowered state. When stress, overwhelm, and growing demands reduce our ability to feel we are in control we feel disempowered. We lose our connection to our higher thoughts, our conscious self and we become inactive, or worse, helpless.
With eating disorders (and addiction in general), it’s often about a momentum of disempowering thoughts that lead to helplessness in the face of life’s challenges. Some people say an addict’s inability to cope with life’s difficulties, emotions and upsets is because they have disordered thoughts. I challenge that and think it’s because we’ve allowed disempowering thoughts – be they internally initiated or externally influenced – to build momentum such that they dominate the airtime in our mind. The majority of our thinking is focused on negative thoughts which create a negative or disempowered state.
I like how Achor’s book is focused on career and success because his concepts apply in these arenas very well. They also apply very well in the world of behavior change, habits and addiction. He says, “Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance….employees who feel they have high levels of control at the office are better at their jobs and report more job satisfaction”.
I can share in this idea as it relates to habit change or addiction recovery. People who feel in their power, or in control as Achor refers to it, are the ones who can guide the direction of the course of their life where they want to go. They can achieve the goals they set out to achieve – be they recovery, or business, or financial or relationship. All high achieving people I believe have a strong sense of their own power, they’re confident and feel in control of their destiny.
But how did they get this way? Ah, more on that in a minute.
Something crucial to report that Achor shares about the control factor in our lives is that, “…gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have. Remember how we experience the world is shaped largely by our mindset”. (more on this in Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage)
The good news insight is that we have control because we can control our thoughts. We can control the amount of control we think we have. Boy, that sounds confusing or like a game we play with ourselves. Yup, it kind of is a game.
As a student of mental empowerment I propose we look at this as a good thing. We can choose to empower or disempower, feel in control or out of control, feel confident or not from the inside out. That’s good news! Unless you don’t want to take responsibility for how you feel or be at cause in your thoughts, which some people fall into. I call it sloppy thinking.
I’d like to add one final concept that Achor talks about regarding the ability to feel in control of our lives at home and work. He reported a study in the workplace on health and specifically coronary heart disease, “…researchers concluded that feeling a lack of control over pressure at work is as great a risk factor for heart disease as even high blood pressure”. Our feelings can have that great of an impact on our physical health!
Wow. I wish everyone knew how important our thoughts and focus are to our well being. Looking at this data it reinforces the idea that we can impact our health with our thoughts.
The Dueling Brain: “The Thinker” and “The Jerk”
A lot of the material in my training workshops and with coaching clients is designed to remind them they have one brain but two minds. In this book Achor refers to the two aspects of ourselves (our two minds) as The Thinker and The Jerk. I haven’t heard them referred to in this way before, but I think those titles work well.
The Thinker is the higher conscious portion of your brain in touch with your goals, the future and is responsive to situations, not knee-jerk reactive. The Jerk would be your animal instinct mind and is always in survival mode and reactive from a fight-or-flight perspective, is focused on the now and not connected to what you most want long-term but instead in this moment.
I enjoyed how Achor introduced these two minds in with this chapter because it demonstrates a lot about how one kicks in (The Jerk) and seems to push the other (The Thinker) out of the way. When working with people with eating disorders, or any addiction for that matter, it’s often the case where we feel like our thoughts are in control (instead of us)…we can’t stop the cravings or our behavior and we have to “give in.” The Jerk mind is very tricky and quickly finds ways to conquer The Thinker’s rational mindset and takes us down a slippery slope we often regret or feel ashamed about.
As it relates to daily performance, Achor says, “…most of our daily challenges are better served by The Thinker, but unfortunately, when we’re feeling stressed or out of control, The Jerk tends to take over. This isn’t something that happens consciously. Instead, it’s biological. When we’re under pressure, the body starts to build up too much cortisol, the toxic chemical associated with stress. Once the stress has reached a critical point, even the smallest setback can trigger an amygdala response, essentially hitting the brain’s panic button…The Jerk overpowers The Thinker’s defenses, spurring us into action without conscious thought.”
If you’ve ever had an overwhelming urge, you acted upon it and later regretted it, you fell prey to this response. You could say, “The Jerk made me do it”. We’ve all been there.
I want to take a moment to share a few concepts that Tony Robbins shares in his workshops that I think would be beneficial to this distinction about the mind and stress.
Tony presents the idea of “1, 2 3 too many” which has to do with the way our brain can take in one, two or maybe three things but after that it’s pure overwhelm and shuts down. If you’ve ever tried to remember a few things someone tells you about, after the second you start to feel anxious and by the third you’ve probably given up and resigned that you’ll never remember all this. I find when I’m traveling if I start to get ideas from someone about great restaurants in a city or things to do, if I don’t immediately start writing them down after #2 I’ve lost them forever. Same idea with a to-do list or our goals. We get overwhelmed and stressed when we try to look at all of the things we have to do. Instead, we need to break it down or write them down (especially if it’s midnight and we can’t sleep because we’re mulling over and over in our mind).
I also want to share a part of Tony Robbin’s teachings about The Triad; our focus, the meaning we give it and our physiology create our state. If we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed it’s because of (a) what we’re focused on and (b) the meaning we’re giving to the situation is disempowering or negative. If we tell ourselves that this thing that we’re experiencing is harmful, negative us or is bad for us, we’re creating stress in our lives. In those moments we need to remember to refocus (on something else) or tell a more empowered story to ourselves about what this means.
Here’s how that could look in real life: A bill arrives in the mail and you react with a “Crap! I’ll never get out of debt if these bills keep coming. How am I supposed to ever get ahead when all I do is pay bills every day!?”
What happened is you checked the mail and a bill was there. The emotional reaction, the story and the resulting feeling of stress about it was all conceived in your mind and probably gave you an emotional and physical response. Instead, if you perhaps were prepared in advance because you know bills arrive in the mail you said to yourself as you opened the mailbox, “sometimes I get bills and I’ve always been able to meet my obligations. I’m on top of things, I have a budget and a plan and I am working it.” Or, you could grab the mail, not read each envelope (shift your focus) and put the mail on the counter for review another time when you’re not already having a tough or challenging day.
[video here about the scale/story of debt]
“Change your focus, change your life” – Tony Robbins
Telling yourself an empowering story about what a bill means can shift your entire emotional and physiological response to the piece of mail. It’s up to you. Takes practice, but if you get out ahead of it you can do it.
Managing Stress, Self-Awareness and Moving to Empowerment
“So how do we reclaim control from The Jerk and put it back into the hands of The Thinker? The answer is the Zorro Circle.”
This is a clever concept and I think Achor is correct. The two things he points out that can help us turn the tides on The Jerk involves two steps. The first step is to raise our level of self-awareness. Achor shares that, “Experiments show that when people are primed to feel high levels of distress, the quickest to recover are those who can identify how they are feeling and put those feelings into words.”
Self-awareness is crucial in any aspect of personal growth. I agree with Achor if you’re working to be a better manager of stress and be more empowered then you need to be highly self-aware.
Noticing and being able to identify when you feel bad or are building negative energy inside is a good tool for life. Everything is energy and energy (and emotions) tends to increase in momentum due to our focus. If we find ourselves frequently upset or stressed or in a negative vibration, it’s often because we didn’t catch our thoughts and emotional state early on in order to adjust our focus and thoughts before they got out of control.
Being highly self-aware of our vibration and energetic state is key to control or intentional creation in our lives. Self-awareness or awareness of self – energy, emotion, thought and attitude are the way we become creators of our life and less reactors to situations.
The second step that Achor talks about is the Zorro Circle. What he means by this is to, “identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.” If you feel helpless, blame others or play victim to what’s happening in your life you’re going to feel disempowered.
In order to keep in an empowered state, first be more self-aware so your negative thoughts don’t get too much momentum and then focus on what you can control. In some areas of our life our locus of control may be small, so we then want to focus on the thing we have the most control over and that’s our mind. Our focus and meaning creating mind is ours to guide. If we tell a better story about the situation, one that empowers us, the resulting feelings we’ll have will keep us in an empowered state. From that empowered state so much more is possible.
Achor also gives advice to focus on the small things we can control and have small wins or successes that build upon each other. When we have wins, even small ones, we feel more confident and empowered. Building small wins upon one another is a great way to increase your confidence and feel an empowered state more of the time.
I’ve found that sometimes my biggest locus of control and empowerment can come from my physical strength and trainings and often carries over into other areas of my life. If I’m feeling like a badass when I’ve crushed a workout, I have a lot more confidence to make a new client call or approach a new situation. Your small wins don’t always have to be in the same area as where you’re perhaps feeling less control or disempowered. Take the win and leverage it.
From the book, “And as their circles started to expand, so did their results….The point: Small successes can add up to major achievements. All it takes is drawing that first circle in the sand.”
Final Thoughts on Principle #5 Zorro Circle
To summarize a few great quotes from this chapter:
“Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance.”
“…gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have.”
“Most of our daily challenges are better served by The Thinker, but unfortunately, when we’re feeling stressed or out of control, the Jerk tends to take over.”
“When small stresses pile up over time, as they so often do in the workplace, it only takes a minor annoyance or irritation to lose control; in other words, to let the Jerk into the driver’s seat.”
“The first goal we need to conquer – or circle we need to draw – is self-awareness.”
“Once you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, your next goal should be to identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.”
“…self-awareness was a swift antidote for emotional hijacking…”
“Small successes can add up to major achievements.”