Stuck in a Rut and Itching for Change?
What do you want to do with your life? Some of us have big plans. We want to complete a marathon, travel or start an art class and reach our target weight once and for all.
Smaller plans could involve meeting friends more, walking our dogs more, learning how to meditate or mastering the art of cooking. I often flit between ‘dreams’ and plans, not really sure which ones I should focus on and which ones will bring the most happiness. Many of us are the same; and it could be a sign that we are simply itching for some change in our lives.
We are all seeking out happiness: that often means pleasure, engagement and a sense of purpose or ‘meaning’ in our lives. If we lack any of these things, we can often be left with the feeling that ‘something is missing’.
The mistake that some of us then go on to make is that we spread ourselves too thin, and quickly move from being a little bored to actually overstretched!
Striking the Right Balance
The problem is that often our idea of ‘change’ is overly dramatic and grandiose. We want it to be a big dream, and we want it now. Social media can often be blamed for this; everything is big and bold and dramatic.
We scroll through feeds, often forgetting that life, in reality, is rarely like this.
For instance, one of my dreams is to write children’s picture books. In my mind, I’ve decided that this must require vast amounts of time to achieve it. It’s a clever way of procrastinating because, of course, this way of thinking is overwhelming, meaning I often don’t do any writing of this kind at all!
We all tend to do this; we mistakenly believe that we won’t have enough time to make the huge and drastic changes that we think are required so we do nothing. Perhaps if I wasn’t so dramatic or black and white in my thinking, I’d remember that baby steps is all that’s really required. Just focusing on one small change can be enough.
For instance, I could write just ten minutes each day for now, and then see how it goes, rather than thinking “I have to dedicate three hours a day to this in order to succeed”.
She urges us to remember the reality about achieving dreams:
1) there is no such thing as an overnight success;
2) you have the answers for your own life;
3) continued success is dependent on continually working hard;
4) blaming others is no good and
5) try to enjoy every step of your journey, not just achieving the goal itself.
A Language of ‘Shoulds’
This is when the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ come up. It’s these words that ‘whip’ us into feeling bad from the first hurdle, as if we aren’t ‘achieving’ like the rest of the world.
Ask yourself what ‘should’ statements are you using? These common negative thinking patterns, or cognitive distortions, can contribute to feelings of fear, worry and, in many cases, complete paralysis, so that you avoid the very thing that you want to do. This is when cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help, bringing about a more rational and constructive way of seeing things. Also, try changing your ‘shoulds’ to ‘coulds’ – for instance, I ‘could’ start walking for 10 minutes each morning. This type of reverse psychology takes the pressure off and, ironically, often makes it much more likely that you’ll achieve the goal.
Try to motivate yourself by substituting less guilt-ridden words than ‘should’. For example, telling yourself you shouldn’t eat something will only ignite feelings of deprivation for many. Rather than seeing certain foods as forbidden, decide to eat healthily because you want to.
Try saying, “I could eat that, but I choose not to.” Remind yourself of all the reasons you want to avoid sugary, fattening foods. For example, does a certain food make you feel tired or sluggish? Does it cause cravings, trouble concentrating, or even headaches? Maybe it just leads to weight gain in the long run and, in that way, makes you feel miserable. If so, remembering that you feel worse afterwards (whether an hour later, the next morning, or when you don’t meet your weight loss goal) can empower you to resist that poor food choice from the get-go.
Another example of ‘shoulds’ is feeling obligated to have to exercise. It may feel like a burden to have to follow that exercise routine that you set up, perhaps when you were overzealous and didn’t take into account some realistic limits of time and energy. But if you’re dreading that trip to the gym, or that morning walk, don’t give up. You are in charge of your own rules for living. Every bit of movement counts.
Try changing your should to: “I want to exercise and be physically active today because I know I will feel better afterwards”. Think how it will energise you, leave you feeling invigorated, lift your mood, or even help get rid of some stress. Any exercise will increase your metabolism and build muscle which burns more calories to help with weight loss.
Firm up on What you Want
When thinking about a change you want to make in your life, ask yourself these three crucial questions, which will help you to become clearer in what you actually want, rather than what you think you should want.
1. The first steps: Do you know what you need to do now? Have you tried committing 10 minutes to [your dream/plan/ambition] each morning? Why do you think you have you been putting it off? Could it be your ‘impostor syndrome’ saying you’re not good enough or not important enough? Do you lack time? Or are you just making excuses? Do you think you’re ‘worth it’?
2. The fantasy: Think of someone who does the thing you dream about. What do you think their daily life like? Is your picture realistic or idealised? Could you see yourself doing that every day? Have you considered the challenges or lows of the reality? Are you aware of the full picture? Do you still want it? If yes, fine. If no, then is there some modified version of that dream that you could aim for instead?
3. Core needs: What values do you think are you yearning to fulfil by achieving this dream? Is it recognition or the feeling of being ‘good enough’? Or is it something else? Do you have a core need for more flexibility in your job, more freedom or space in your life [for instance, a stay-at-home parent could be craving some ‘me time’ and may want to get back to part-time work]. Or are you craving to use your creative side more? Ask yourself, how can you engage with your values and your dreams?
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale