Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is a common problem. Clients often tell me that it’s a huge problem for them. But procrastinating is not the real problem, it is merely the symptom of an underlying issue.

Before I get too deep into procrastinating and how to overcome it, I’d like to talk about incubation. When in the creative process or working out a problem, it is typical to go through a “ruminating” phase, when you turn over all of your work to your subconscious and give it a chance to work on the problem. This is where those “aha!” moments come from. Do not confuse this important phase with procrastination. You should be able to tell the difference. For me, when I’m letting ideas percolate, my thinking is fuzzy. I feel slightly agitated because I don’t like not knowing. When I am procrastinating there is a feeling of avoidance and resistance.

Procrastination – Why we do it

As I previously stated, procrastination is not a cause but a symptom of a larger and more complex issue. Some of the reasons why we procrastinate include:

  1. Fears – Fear is uncomfortable and we often choose to relieve our discomfort by distracting ourselves with T.V., surfing the web, cleaning (notice how appealing cleaning is when faced with something you don’t want to do?), etc.
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Perfectionism – As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how hard it can be to risk doing something that doesn’t live up to your (often unrealistic) expectations. In order to avoid making a mistake, looking bad or failing, our modus operandi is to do nothing.
  4. Bad habits – We become comfortable with our routines and bad habits and don’t realize how big of a hold they have on us. Habits are hard to change.
  5. Expecting things to be easy – If things have been relative easy for you all your life, taking on something that requires an effort can be, well, hard.

Tools to Overcome Procrastination

While it helps to understand and be aware of where our procrastination stems from, these tools don’t require identifying the origin in order to be effective.

Small Steps

Break down what you need to do into the smallest step possible, such as sticking with the task for 5 minutes. Small steps actually works on several levels. First, getting started is often the hardest part. When I am avoiding a task, I often tell myself I only have to do it for 5 minutes. It seems counter intuitive, how will you accomplish anything if you only do it for 5 minutes but it works. If I stop after 5 minutes, I’ve achieved my goal (and built up a little confidence). But what happens more often than not, is I continue because I’ve broken through that wall of inertia and gained some momentum.

Second, we often overwhelm ourselves by making that first step unrealistic. I used to make these ridiculous schedules, leaving little breathing room for anything else. And -surprise – I never followed them! It’s much less daunting to write a sentence than a book so break things down. Then break them down even further.

Find a Buddy

Find someone who is also working on a goal. Make it a habit to meet and work on your goals together (5 minutes at a time, if you have to), supporting and cheering each other on. Be picky about who you choose. I’ve been running consistently for nine years because I had a running partner when I started. Not just any partner, but someone who already had a running habit making it hard for me to back out. I knew if I did she would not go easy on me. She was the perfect partner because her good habits rubbed off on me and appealed to my competitive nature.

What Worked in the Past?

This is a powerful question. It gets our minds thinking about what we are trying to accomplish instead of what’s getting in our way. We procrastinate because we are focused on the negatives – I’ll make a fool of myself – instead of what we are trying to accomplish. We all have areas we’ve had success in and feel confident about. What did you do then that you can apply to your current situation?

You can not tell me that you’ve never had any success in your life. If you are reading this, you’ve mastered one of the hardest skills there is and you did it at a relatively young age – language and the all intricacies involved with it such as reading and writing.

I have found these tools to be easy to use and produce incredible results in a short period of time. Give them a try the next time you find yourself procrastinating.

 

 

Mindset – the First Step to Success

Mindset - The First Step to Success

Everything we do is an attempt to control our lives and despite what you may think, we are not controlled by external, but by internal forces – what we think and believe. In other words, our mindset.

The definition of mindset is a “particular way of thinking, a person’s attitude or opinion about something, an inclination of habit”. Nowhere does it mention “truth” or “facts”. This is because your mindset is merely your way of thinking, your perspective, your habits of thought. It’s not reality, it’s your version of reality. In “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz refers to it as a dream. It isn’t carved in stone and set for life. You can choose to change it at any time, by reframing the meaning you give it, especially if it’s not serving you.

In my own struggles to create a career I love, I realize now that my biggest obstacle wasn’t my age, lack of the “proper” degree, money, time or any other excuse. My biggest obstacle was my mindset. You are what you think.

Mindset – 5 Qualities to Foster

When considering what goals to focus on,  examining your mindset is a good place to begin. Of course, your habits of thoughts and beliefs aren’t going to announce themselves, they operate subconsciously so this is not a one time exercise. You’ll need to bring a lot of awareness to your thoughts and question them.  Are they helping or hindering you – and weed out the ineffective ones. Five qualities of a constructive mindset are: self-acceptance, a belief in yourself, optimism, resourcefulness and curiosity.

Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance is about living from your genuine voice, “to the truth of your inner being in all the ways that it speaks to you and live from it” as Helene G. Brenner Ph.D describes it. The problem a lot of women have, myself included, is too often we let other people’s opinions, desires and assumptions govern us. We find fault and constantly tell ourselves we are “not enough”. When we listen to our authentic voice we realize that we don’t have to fix, change or improve anything to be happy. There is no test to pass, conditions to meet or anything to prove in order to pursue the life we want.

Belief in Yourself

When you believe in yourself, you have the confidence and faith that you are capable of doing what you need to do. You believe you have control over your life and you accept the responsibility and consequences of your actions.

We all have varying degrees of confidence depending on our interests and experiences. I’m a confident public speaker but not so confident in my computer skills. Competence breeds confidence, the more practice you’ve had doing something, the more confident you will be.

Optimism

Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life, it means you choose to remain confident things will work out. As Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Resourcefulness

Being able to skillfully and imaginatively deal with difficult situations is a valuable skill. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. So many dreams have died a premature death, not because of a lack of money, but a lack of resourcefulness and creativity. They put all their eggs in one basket and hope it works. Successful people always have a plan B, C…Z, if needed. They don’t focus on the problem or the limitations. They focus on what they want and how they can accomplish it. It’s about making do with what you have, as the U.S. Marine Corp says – improvise, adapt and overcome.

Curiosity

Resourceful people are inquisitive. They want to learn about everything. They’ll take things apart to see how they work, ask lots of questions and like to explore and investigate. They have an open mind and are willing to see other perspectives. Avoid jumping to conclusions, making assumptions or value judgments. 

A good way to start cultivating a positive mindset is to first practice becoming aware of your thoughts and beliefs. Become aware of how a thought feels. When you think it, do you feel tense? Angry? If so, then challenge it. If it isn’t helping you, then it’s time to think differently.

Template for Success

Formula for Success

Success isn’t complicated. I could sum up success in four words:

Success = Vision + Action + Feedback + Perseverance.

Actually, it’s not so much an equation as it is a loop.

You have a vision of what you want to accomplish (your goal).

In order for you to achieve it you have to DO something. Action is required. And you need to focus on the RIGHT action – actions that will move you toward your goal and give you the results you want.

This is where feedback comes into play. How do you know if you’re getting results? One way is to measure them. If you can’t measure them, then you need to find another means to evaluate your progress (or lack thereof). Are there patterns? Do you need more time and and consistent effort before you see results? Do you need to start from scratch or just tweak your plan?

The key with feedback is to not take it personally or be married to any one path – remain flexible and explore other options.

Finally, you need to shore yourself up for the long haul. Our enthusiasm is high at the beginning of any goal but we will encounter set backs and obstacles. We need to be mentally and physically prepared to see ourselves through these times, perhaps even plan for them. This is a good time to revisit out vision, why we are doing this in the first place. We need to cut ourselves slack and not expect perfection.

That’s it – it’s really that simple but it is by no means easy. I’ll be exploring the four components of success – vision, action, feedback and perseverance – in more detail in upcoming posts.

Stuck? Try Something Different!

Stuck? Try Something Different

If you’re not getting the results you want, stop spinning your wheels and try something different.

They (whoever “they” are…) say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Guilty.

I spent a lot of time trying to create a business with no success. I learned a lot along the way and one lesson was just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone (i.e. me). I had blinders on, all my eggs-in-one-basket mentality, as if there was only one way to accomplish something. If it didn’t work, I blamed myself, dug in deeper and tried harder. It was as effective as hitting the gas when your car is stuck in mud. I was spinning my wheels, wasting time, energy and beating myself up for my lack of progress.

It’s important to understand when you are working on a achieving a goal, whatever it is, if you are not seeing the results you want, try something different, especially if this is a goal you’ve repeatedly tried.

For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, again, and decided to try the latest fad diet and/or join another health club, I beg you to reconsider. If the last diet didn’t work, maybe the problem isn’t you, maybe the problem is dieting doesn’t work (I’ll spare you my rant on diets…). If you’ve had a gym membership before and never went, what makes you think this time will be different? I’m not saying you lack willpower or should give up on losing weight and getting in shape, what I am proposing is there is more than one way to do it, find one that won’t make you feel deprived and tortured. It may take a couple tries until you hit on something that works for you. The key is to keep trying.

 

Lies we tell ourselves

girl-worried-1215261_1280

Everyday we tell ourselves lies that limit our potential. Here are some of them:

1.”It’s not my fault”

If you are talking about the weather or another person’s actions, then you’re right. But we often say these words when we have been called out on our behavior. In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about our birthrights and one of them is freedom of choice. We all have the power to choose and as a result, we need to take responsibility for our actions.

When you apologize for your words or actions, try to right a wrong, suffer the consequences, make amends, fix your mistakes, etc, not only do you have a chance to learn and grow, you release yourself from the pain and memory and can move on. You are able to take that failure and make it a win. When you play the blame game, you end up holding on to all that negative energy and carrying it with you, letting it eat at your confidence and self-esteem.

2. “I can’t…”

At 53 my chances of becoming a prima ballerina are slim but nothing is stopping me from taking ballet lessons, watching ballet, photographing dancers, creating a movie about ballet, hosting a fundraiser for the ballet or writing a book about it or in any other way expressing my love for ballet.

There are some things that aren’t realistic anymore but there is a difference between accepting reality and fighting for our limitations. Don’t let your age, circumstances or physical abilities define what you can and can’t do. Ask yourself “Why can’t I?” “What if I did?” Maybe you don’t want to…but that’s OK, you’re making a choice which is different than accepting defeat before you even tried.

3. Letting your past determine your future.

The beauty of being human is that we are capable of learning and growing. What happened 1, 5, 20 years ago is inconsequential to what we are capable of doing today. Ten years ago I said I hated running and totally sucked at it. But today I am a runner and I can run an 8 minute mile. I’m not going to win any awards but my vitals (i.e. pulse, blood pressure, etc) not to mention my physique, have changed over time due to my commitment to running. The choices we make determine our future. If we want our future to be different, we do so by making different choices. Personally, if I’m still the same person in ten years as I am today, I’ll be disappointed. Living in the past is not living.

4. Life’s a bitch.

This isn’t a lie because life can be a bitch at times. As I write this post, it is my brother’s birthday. He passed away almost 20 years ago, leaving behind a wife and two-year-old son. That sucks, because if you ever met my brother you’d be instantly struck by how fun-loving and optimistic he was. He got sick when he was visiting me and I remember saying how it sucked and his comment when his wife brought him a bowl of soup was “Yeah, but I’m being taken care of.’ He wasn’t focused on how sick he was, he was just so grateful for the love and care his wife gave him.

People are probably tired of me saying it but it’s true – you get what you focus on. If you’re going to focus on the misery in life, that’s all you’ll see. And how does that make you feel? Not so good, I bet.

Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life, it means you choose to remain confident things will work out. As Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Studies show optimists live longer, are healthier and more committed to and likely to achieve their goals. Dreaming about a better future motivates you to work towards it.

Personal control is one of the traits of happy people. When we feel we are in control of our life, we are happier, more productive and have more confidence. We can pursue our dreams and have a sense of purpose in our life, which gives us meaning and more fulfillment. Stop the lies, quit putting limitations on your life and take control of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Self-Help a Scam?

I came across an article by Steve Salerno called “Tony Robbins, Donald Trump and the continuing self-delusion of our self-help nation” and it sparked some thoughtful conversation.

First, let me ask this: Is there a difference between self-help and self-improvement?

The definition of self-help is:

“the use of one’s own efforts and resources to achieve things without relying on others.”

The definition of self-improvement is:

“learning new things on your own that make you a more skilled or able person.”

The two definitions are similar. Both are kind of vague when you think about it – what kind of help/improvement? Being a certified NLP Practitioner, I understand the power of language and being very clear about what you mean. I like the definition for self-improvement  better because it’s more specific and action-oriented. It’s about being inner driven or motivated (that’s how I interpret the “on your own” part of the definition) to make some change. It’s a process that requires action and you will be a different (i.e. improved) person as a result.

The problem I have with the definition for self-help is the “without relying on others”. I believe we are all students and teachers in life. We have this cultural myth about the “self-made” person but the truth is that no man is an island. We are all influenced by our social norms, upbringing, religious indoctrination, friends, teachers and experiences. It is what gives us our unique perspective of the world. The truly successful seek out mentors, coaches and partners that can help them gain the skills they need to move forward. No one knows it all, the learning process and growth we experience is what the journey of life is all about.

Many people at the forefront of the self-help/improvement movement provide motivation and the information can be a catalyst for change. But it’s up to you to implement it. You can buy all the books, tapes, workshops, etc you want, but unless you act  nothing’s going to change.

Side note: Too many people – and I was once in this category – think they should keep doing the same thing, that the reason they’re not getting the results they want is because they aren’t trying hard enough. It’s this kind of thinking that prevents change because it keeps you in a blame/shame mentality. If you are not getting the results you want, don’t “try harder”, try something different.

That’s the part that they don’t talk about. I don’t think it’s their message that’s wrong but their marketing. But then again, it is human nature to try to take the easy way out. Who wants to cut out cake or soda and exercise when you can just take a pill? Most people have goals and dreams and truly want to achieve them but they don’t want to do the hard work (mentally, emotionally and physically) necessary. So you have a bunch of people who become evangelists, who buy the books, seminars, workshops, conferences, etc without ever applying the message. All they are buying is the appearance of change. They get all the “feel-good blather”, as Salerno calls it and no substance. They can talk the talk but never walk the walk.

The bottom line is this: it doesn’t matter whether you want to call it self-help or self-improvement, the only way to elicit positive change is through action. You’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone. It’s going to take work and the understanding that human behavior is complex – our thoughts, beliefs, habits and impulses control our behavior though most of us aren’t even aware of it. We try to use willpower, rational and analytical thinking, but they are ineffective. Just look at the failure rate of dieters. There is good news though, once you have the motivation and understand how to tap into and leverage your inner resources to your advantage, you can create the positive, permanent change that the self-help movement preaches.

4 Questions to keep you on target

4 Questions to keep you on targetSo you have a goal – lose weight, start a business, get over your fear of public speaking, learn new software – whatever it is. That’s wonderful! Life is really just a series of goals – growing into our full potential. Before you dive in, it’s time to do a quick assessment of where you are at. This is not a one shot deal, you should check in with yourself often. Asking these questions will help keep your impulses/emotions from side-tracking your progress.

Am I hungry?

“Wait,” you say, “that’s great if I was on a diet but that’s not my goal…” Have you ever heard of the word “hangry”? It’s actually in the Urban Dictionary and is a composite of the word hungry and angry and defined as:

“When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.”

Since I mention diet, I will bring up two cases to illustrate the importance of this question.

First, I had a client who’s goal was to lose weight. She tried every fad diet, which are usually full of restrictions and create a deprivation mentality. Her enthusiasm would be high in the beginning but sooner or later (usually sooner) her hunger would become unbearable and she’d end up gorging on junk food. This would put her in a cycle of shame and blame that got her nowhere.

My second client wanted to finish her degree and start a new career. She was working full time and enrolled in night classes. Three nights a week she was driving from work to class and would be there for 3 hours. Her first semester grades weren’t good. She questioned her commitment and her intelligence and came to me as her one last hope before giving up. One of the things I discovered is that on the day of class, she didn’t eat dinner until she got home, usually around 9 pm. She would snack on soda and a bag of chips or a candy bar.

The problem was that both of my clients were hungry! Food is both a need and a basic pleasure in life so eating a well-balanced, nutritionally dense meal is important for mental and physical performance. I worked with both clients to develop healthy options so they were getting the nutrition they needed to function at an optimal level while also feeling satisfied. I knew why my first client couldn’t lose weight – she thought she had to eat salad all the time and hated every minute of it! After some research, she was able to come up with some healthier versions of her favorite meals as well as some snacks that satisfied her but were still nutritious.

My second client started planning some time into her schedule to have a light, nutritious dinner or pack a healthy snack that would still keep her focused during class.

Are there any emotional issues that need to be resolved?

I’m not talking about childhood or other big emotional traumas here. For those you should seek the appropriate help, such as a licensed therapist. I’m referring to those little emotional blips that we get caught up in a daily basis such as being stuck in traffic, oversleeping or dealing with a grouchy child. Little things that just seem to yank our chain and get us angry or frustrated. It’s best to clear the air before you try to do anything else.

Especially if you need to deal with someone else, one of the best tools is to write it out. Journal your feelings and frustrations. Have a little hissy fit on paper, rather than doing it in person and escalating the situation. Most of us get tired of our pity party and when that happens you can sit back and look at the situation objectively and do what you need to do to get back on track whether that means laughing it off as just one of those days or apologizing.

Is your social calendar bare or overloaded?

We are social creatures but we all need downtime. Is there a balance in your life? Is every spare minute filled up with work and social activities that you have no time to yourself? Or, are you starved for a little social interaction? Extroverts are rejuvenated by spending time with others. Introverts recharge by withdrawing into themselves. Know which works best for you and make sure that you schedule enough time so you don’t feel deprived and drained.

Consider your preferences when you are setting your goals. I had a client who was taking online courses but as convenient as they were, she often made excuses instead of doing them. Turns out she preferred the interaction of being in a classroom. Once she switched over, her motivation and enthusiasm returned.

Are you tired?

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Not enough sleep can result in difficulty concentrating and remembering things as well as lower reflexes resulting in vehicle crashes, industrial accidents and medical and other work related errors. People who are regularly sleep deprived also have more medical problems such as depression, obesity and hypertension. The amount of sleep we need depends on our age but the average adult should be getting 7-8 hours a night.

Trying to make changes in our life requires energy and it’s hard to stay on track if you aren’t getting enough sleep. It helps to establish a regular bedtime, turn off the electronic devices, avoid caffeine and alcohol and avoid large meals before bed.

Working towards our goals is part of what makes us happy but in order to give them our full, focused attention, we need to make sure some of our basic needs are taken care of.

In Praise of Toastmasters

In Praise of ToastmastersI don’t care who you are or what you do, being a good communicator is an essential skill in life and for that, Toastmasters is probably one of the best learning experiences that your money can buy. I recommend it for everyone.

It is the eve of my final Toastmasters speech, after tomorrow I will officially be a Competent Communicator (you can go to the Toastmasters header to see all my speeches. I tried videotaping all of them but the first few had some operator errors…as in I forget to press the shutter button so it would actually record…)

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, everyone starts out with the Competent Communication (CC) manual and there are 10 speeches to complete. Each speech focuses on a particular part of public speaking – tone, body language, organization, persuasion, etc. The tenth speech is a culmination of everything you learned – it is the inspirational speech. After you finish the CC manual you are free to choose from a variety of other manuals based on your individual goals (titles include: The Entertaining Speaker, Technical Presentations, Special Occasion Speeches, Communicating on Video, Facilitation Discussion and Storytelling)

My goal was to finish the manual in 10 months – one speech for every month. I will have achieved this goal but I wasn’t paying attention in the early months so I didn’t sign up fast enough. In order to finish in 10 months I’ve had to do four speeches in a row. I’ll be very happy when I complete this last one and will take a break from the speech writing/giving for the summer. There are other roles in the club that I’d like more experience in anyway, such as being Toastmaster or an evaluator.

As I said, everyone can benefit from being in Toastmasters. It doesn’t matter what your job is, whether you’re a stay at home mom, blue collar worker, student or CEO, we are always communicating. Even when we aren’t talking, we communicate through our body language, how we dress, our eye contact, mannerisms…everything we do says something about us.

Let me walk you through a typical meeting at my local club. Other clubs might have slight differences but there is a basic structure to most clubs.

Our club has several different roles that are filled each week by members. There is a Toastmaster, who determines the theme of the meeting and is kind of like the Ringmaster in a circus. There is a timer, speeches and evaluations are timed. A general evaluator who evaluates the overall meeting – and speech evaluators. Feedback is critical to our growth as speakers. I was resistance to “areas of improvement” because I saw that as a criticism but I soon realized that it was more important for me to grow than get praise (see this post). The Table Topics master picks out topics and then chooses someone from the audience to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. Table topics can be intimidating but it helps you think on your feet. We also have what we call a WAG, who comes up with the word of the day, counts “ah’s” and other superfluous words (some people might use “like” a lot or “and”) and checks grammar. Sometimes we have a meeting listener who will ask questions about the meeting to see if we have been paying attention. Participating in these roles, along with doing the speeches, helps build a well-rounded communication education.

Some of the specific benefits of Toastmasters are:

  • Confidence – it’s said that public speaking is more feared than death. Preparation and practice are the only way to overcome it.
  • Leadership skills  
  • Clarify your writing. Writing the speech is one of my favorite parts. Not only do you have to structure your writing in a way that makes sense, but you have to stay within a certain time frame so being succinct, knowing what to keep in and take out as well as narrowing your focus are important skills to hone.
  • Think on your feet. Sometimes we’re called upon to make a few impromptu words at a special occasion or your boss asks you for your opinion. Learning to think on your feet and be articulate is an important skill.
  • Listening skills. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening and unfortunately our listening skills aren’t as developed as our speaking skills. Being an evaluator helps refine those skills
  • Critical thinking skills. Coming up with speech topics, research and organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole requires thought. As an evaluator you have to discern what the speaker is doing well and what they could improve upon.
  • Memory. I have yet to use notes in any of my speeches (though highly paid public speakers say they still use notes and there is nothing wrong with it.) I don’t say this to brag, I memorize my speeches because it’s good for my brain. My first speech I took 2 weeks to memorize. My ninth speech I learned in a day. I’ve given myself 3 days to learn the 10th speech because it is the longest speech and I didn’t want to be rushed. I’m hoping to finish strong!
  • Learn to take criticism. Criticism might be too harsh a word. We like to call them “grow” points but the fact is, if you want to learn and grow, you have to be able to objectively take constructive criticism.
  • Look for the positives. Everything about Toastmasters is geared toward being positive. Let people know their strengths, find something good in everything and when you do have a “grow” point, we phrase it in a positive light.
  • It’s fun! Turns out I’m a bit of a ham so getting up in front of an audience is fun. I love being animated and I always try to be either entertaining, informative or inspiring. Not sure if I achieve any of them but that’s always my goal.
  • Support. Finding a good club to call home is crucial. My club, while small, is filled with some of the kindest, funniest, supportive people that I’ve ever met.

I look back on my body of work with Toastmasters so far and I’m proud of everything I’ve done and have learned a lot. Maybe there’s a TED talk in my future…

 

One model for creating change

One model to make permanent changeIn my last post, I talked about how our subconscious mind, where our thoughts and beliefs reside, can sabotage our efforts to change without us even realizing it. It’s often the reason most new year’s goals are abandoned within the first month. Our beliefs and habits (including habits of thought) are so ingrained in our minds that no matter how much conscious exertion we put on trying to change (i.e. willpower), we often fail because we aren’t addressing underlying beliefs. The biggest problem is we usually aren’t aware that it’s our beliefs stopping us. We are trying to create change by using the wrong tools.

I’d like to share with you one model for making change.

Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to point out that change is not going to happen overnight, in most cases. It’s going to take practice so don’t be hard on yourself if you slip. Please don’t give up because it didn’t work the first time. You’re working against some pretty powerful forces.

Cognitive behavior therapy offers one model for change. It’s called the ABC model and this is how it works:

A = Activating event

B = Belief or perception

C = Consequence

So let’s say you decided to lose weight and just inhaled a whole quart of ice cream. You’re feeling a little disappointed in yourself (to say the least…) Here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper and write down the activating event – “Ate a quart of ice cream”. Stick with the facts.

Now write your belief or perception. You might write something like “What’s the use of even trying, I have no willpower.” “I’m a big, fat pig! I don’t deserve to be happy!” Get it all out. Often we’ll use absolutes (always, never) or words like “should”, “must”, “have to”, “ought to” which are indicative of irrational thinking.

What’s the consequence of those beliefs? Write them down. These are self-defeating emotions – guilt, anger, depression, a sense of worthlessness, self-pity, etc. These emotions don’t serve us, they leave us stuck and put us into a cycle of shame and blame.

In order to change you need to challenge/dispute your original belief. It could go something like this “I was stressed and hungry from skipping lunch. There are plenty of times when I’ve made healthy choices. I’ll ask my coach for some stress relieving tactics  and make sure that I make time for a healthy lunch so I’m better prepared.”

Now note the effect that this has on you emotionally. Do you feel differently than when you described the consequence? This part of the exercise elicits more positive emotions (disappointment, concern, sadness, hope). You recognize that you had a set back and have come up with some proactive solutions to keep it from happening again. This gives us a feeling of control and we often recommit to seeing our goals through.

Give this a try next time you’re having trouble making changes in your life

 

Why is it so hard to change?

Why is it so hard to change?Because you think your conscious mind is running the show.

Our brain is a complex and amazing organ. It has a built in survival mechanism, allows us to experience deep emotions, form social bonds and think, reason, analyze, and create.

The problem is we think the cognitive, rational, analytical part of our brain, the part we’re aware of, is in charge when in fact, it’s responsible for about 15% of our thoughts and actions. The other 85% is controlled by our subconscious – the part we aren’t aware of.

From the day we are born, our brains start building neural pathways. Because our brain values efficiency, when something is repeated, whether it be an action or a thought, these pathways become stronger and ingrained to the point we don’t even have to think about them anymore. That’s a good and bad thing.

It’s good for things like mastering a skill. Remember when you first learned how to drive and how awkward it was? If your experience was anything like mine, there was a lot of conscious effort as you tried to remember what you were suppose to do. Your actions were choppy, there was a lot of jerking when you turned, accelerated or braked. But after years of driving, our actions are smoother. I know how much room I need to ease into traffic. If a car cuts me off or swerves in front of me I react quickly. I don’t have to think “What should I do?” because I instinctively know what to do, I’ve done it thousands of times. I can predict what a lot of drivers will do around me before they even do it. I have my brain to thank for all of that.

Then there’s the down side. As we are growing up, we receive messages – from our family, friends, teachers and society in general. Some of these messages, if repeated enough, become internalized and we adopt as beliefs. Some work for us, some don’t.

My client, whom I’ll call Sarah, hired me because she wanted to start her own business. She had a viable idea and a good plan but couldn’t seem to make the leap. Instead, she kept taking dead end, low paying jobs she was overqualified for and hated. She was losing hope.

This wasn’t the first business she attempted to start. Any of her previous ideas could have worked but after the initial excitement of researching the business and coming up with a plan, she would hit an obstacle, procrastinate or just give up, believing she was too old or didn’t have the “right” credentials. It was a predictable pattern and she was frustrated. She yearned for something different but when she got to a certain point she always quit. It was a battle of wills – between her deeply conscious desire to have control over her own fate, to have the flexibility and variety that being her own boss would bring and choose exciting projects and work with people who inspired her – and her subconscious beliefs.

Her subconscious was winning. Sarah had a huge fear of rejection and as we explored the issue further, it turned out Sarah was constantly looking for someone to validate her worth. It was a driving force throughout her life, unbeknownst to her. Any rejection, off-hand remark, roll of the eyes or indifference, Sarah’s subconscious mind assumed were about her so it would rely on those deeply ingrained behaviors of the past and she’d retreat back to the safety of her comfort zone lest she be deemed unworthy.

Sarah believed her self-worth came from other people. It was outer-focused. She reflected back on her life and realized how this manifested in so many of her actions and interactions. She saw how it caused a lot of the conflicts she had with others and was the source of much of her unhappiness.

Sarah’s dream of owning her own business would (probably) never be realized until she could resolve the belief that she needed others to validate her worth. The biggest problem is we aren’t even aware of these subconscious thoughts so never bother to question them, even when they no longer serve us. We get caught up in a pattern of trying and then failing, creating an endless chain of disappointment.

So what can we do about it? I’ll address that in my next post.