Here we are, in the heart of high season for over-indulgence, otherwise known as the holidays. Now is not the best time to start a diet!
As you succumb to the lure of eggnog at the office Christmas party, the Christmas Kringle in the break room and those adorable, ubiquitous frosted sugar cookies, there’s probably a part of you that is already making plans to compensate “after the holidays are over”. New Year’s resolutions are the ultimate hangover antidote.
There’s a whole slew of research on why New Year’s resolutions fail, but for now, let’s look at how you can use your indulgence to lay the groundwork for making lasting positive change in your life.
We know we would be better off if we took better care of ourselves; if we got more sleep, more exercise, ate better, were kinder to others and ourselves, paid more attention to our loved ones, had more down time. Almost universally, we don’t do these things, despite our best intentions.
Quite often, our counter-productive behaviors just kind of happen; the casual handful of M&Ms out of bowl on the receptionist’s desk, the days (or weeks) that pass without meaningful exercise. Much of our daily behavior is more or less unconscious. We follow a pattern, a whim or a habit without really thinking about it. It’s rare that we pause long enough to consider what we are about to do in the context of our bigger goals, purpose or long-term dreams. While you might feel a momentary flash of guilt as you take that extra-large slice of pumpkin pie, do you really consider whether eating it is in alignment with your vision of your best self?
A second and equally insidious reason we engage in counter-productive behavior is because the behavior actually meets a need, or relieves stress or discomfort. Again, we are usually unaware of the need or discomfort underlying our choice. Constantly snacking during work? Perhaps you are filling a need for purpose by substituting the instant gratification of food. Are you working at all hours, even when you’re home with your family? You may be trying to relieve an underlying feeling of inadequacy in your role of parent or spouse.
Whether we are acting out of an unconscious habit or an unconscious need for relief, the key word is unconscious. The good news is that your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle and a better you can start right now, with awareness.
Awareness is the precursor to change, but it usually doesn’t happen on its own (short of a major crisis shocking us into consciousness). Lasting change in our personal behaviors is much more likely when those changes are built on awareness; of motivations, consequences, unconscious triggers and feelings/fears associated with changing or not changing. When you know better, you are more likely to do better.
Use the next few weeks to practice awareness. Don’t try to change your counter-productive behaviors just yet, just begin to notice them. Here’s some pointers to get you started:
- Be compassionate with yourself. It’s important not to beat yourself up for giving in to unconscious behaviors. This can undermine your self-esteem and actually increases the likelihood of engaging in behaviors that undermine your health and well-being.
- Catch yourself in the act. Become a compassionate self-observer. When you find yourself doing something you know is not in your long-term best interest, step outside yourself and observe. Notice your feelings before, during and after. Notice any gratification you are receiving. Notice any negative consequences. Notice the environment and what triggered your behavior.
- Set a time for daily self-reflection. Take a few minutes every day to compassionately review your behaviors and note those that might not be in your long-term best interest. Note any awareness that came from catching yourself in the act. For best results, do it in writing.
- Give yourself the gift of self-love. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to become our best selves and live a truly fulfilling life. Finish your self-reflection time with this short meditation: Sit quiet and comfortably. Take a few breaths all the way down into your belly. Offer yourself these comforting, compassionate wishes: “May I be happy and peaceful. May I be safe and protected from harm. May I feel at ease. May I know compassion for myself.” Repeat.
If you do this from now until the holidays or over, by the time the New Year rolls around, you’ll have built a foundation of awareness that will greatly increase your chances of making the real, lasting and important changes necessary for sustainable personal success and fulfillment.