It’s very difficult for humans to change. No matter how uncomfortable or distressing bad habits become, we hold onto them. Most people with bad or unhealthy habits desire change. They dream of the day when they lose ten pounds. They hate feeling stuck in an unsatisfying job. They recognize the dangers of cigarettes, but can’t kick the habit.
Truth be told, we all have bad habits, some are more life threatening than others, yet nonetheless troublesome.
Why do we get stuck? The simple answer is, change is hard and a lot of us don’t have the wherewithal to get through the bumps until the positive change kicks in. Some people don’t have a reliable support system, which without, makes changing extraordinarily challenging. Yet others don’t believe in their ability to affect change in their lives. They can see the end goal, but can’t envision reaching it. They see others attaining goals, but harbor self-doubt and talk themselves out of even trying. Years past and they find the bad habits haven’t gone anywhere and the desire remains the same.
Six years ago, I decided to change my life. I was overweight, unhappy and lonely. I had been in a long term relationship that lead to nowhere. I used food to comfort me and it became my best friend. I was the heaviest I’d ever been and my self-esteem was so low that I could barely stand to look in the mirror. I lied and pretended to the world that I was content although most evenings I sat in front of a computer screen and chatted with people I’d met online. I pretended to be okay wearing a size 16 even though I dreaded shopping. Being short and overweight makes shopping very difficult, but I accepted it as my fate. I had my friends convinced that being single and lonely was a choice when in reality, it was quite painful. I longed for a partner to share life with. I had dated a lot, but kept picking the wrong man. Those experiences made my life that much more miserable.
I’ll never forget the defining moment that altered my path and got me on the road to making life changing decisions. It was a dreary Saturday morning and I had nothing to look forward to that day. Here I was a vibrant woman, had a successful business, but depression was taking a toll. I decided to get up and go out. I went to the local Panera for coffee and sat there for hours. I felt paralyzed and hopeless. I recognized that I needed to make some changes or that I could spend a lifetime muddled in unhappiness and finding comfort in food. It was my ‘ah ha” moment. No flashing lights or signs from above, but just the realization that I could stay in this space for a long time. There were no saviors; no knights in shining armor. It was on me to figure it out and I did.
My first task was to recognize how my negative thoughts were keeping me stuck. “you’ll never lose the weight,’ ‘it’s okay to treat yourself to sweets every now and then’. ‘there are no good men out there’. If you think it, you will believe it and you will create it. I practiced turning my negative thoughts into more positive, pro-active ones. I kept a daily journal and wrote down my thoughts. In a short period of time, the automatic negative thoughts stopped and I felt more empowered.
Next, I decided to go back to the gym on a regular basis. I had a membership to the local YMCA and always felt comfortable there. Every day after work, I worked out. I made myself stay for at least 30 minutes, but more often than not, I was there longer. It became such that if I missed a day, I really felt it. I discovered that I loved working out. One day, I was standing in my office and a client whom I hadn’t seen in a long time saiid, “I don’t mean to be insulting, but you have lost a lot of weight!”. Insulted? I was thrilled. See up to that point, my focus wasn’t on losing weight, it was on getting healthier. So I did something I was dreading. I pulled out a size 12 pair of jeans and they fit. Not only did they fit, there were loose! I don’t know how much weight I lost, but to me that’s not the most important assessment. Being able to wear a size that I hadn’t seen in years, was the most significant measure for me. I continued to work out until I got down to a size 8! I’ve never worn a size 8 in all of my adult years and yes, I was looking good in my skinny jeans.
I decided to give the online dating thing another chance. I had met some decent men, but I had also encountered some shady characters as well. I’m glad I did because I met ‘the one,’ whom I am now married to. We dated and by the third date, I knew I had found the one! We dated for three years and got married two and a half years ago. It’s been the best time of my life so far.
I grew my business and even in this shaky economy, I’ve been able to thrive and grow. I’ve advanced my working out to running. My intent is to do a 5k this coming summer. In being transparent, I went back up to a size 10, but feel confident that I’m continuing to do all things healthy for myself. That’s my story and I don’t look back. I continue to push forward. Some days are easy and other days, I need to check myself. I maintain my journaling to keep on top of the negative thinking. I also practice daily mindfulness. This practice alone has been life changing. My stress level has significantly been reduced and my self-esteem remains solidly in tact.
Anyone can change. There has to be a willingness and an acceptance that there is not a straight line to success, but rather a curvy and unpredictable path. However, you have to believe that you deserve what you seek and with guidance, support and tools, you will get there. I am a living example of how you can move from despair to living a life that feels right for you.
Here are the stages of change. As a start, ask yourself where you stand:
Pre-contemplation——This is sort of a denial stage. Others must suggest you have a problem, but you might dismiss their concerns or become angry and defensive.
Contemplation—This is where you begin to examine your feelings of guilt and shame and possibly consider what you stand to lose or gain if you make changes in your life.
Preparation-You willingly admit there’s a problem and need for change. You might start to seek out sources that can help you make the change. You’re willingness to change increases during this stage.
Taking action— You create a plan. You create a support system and educate yourself on what you need to do to change. You seek assistance.
Maintenance-You reinforce your plan, learn and consistently practice new skills. You feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving your goals.