Hey out there! I was just getting ready for my day and my mind was reflecting on a few recent events in my life and noticing a commonality between them. So naturally I thought I’d share these reflections with you.
It seems that the overall lesson is that when life presents us with an opportunity to change a harmful pattern, we have two choices (assuming we’re conscious enough of the pattern to see it in the first place):
1. We can see the opportunity to do things differently and choose to do things the same old way anyway. Usually we make this choice out of fear of change or fear of angering or disappointing someone if we were to behave differently than they “expect.”
2. We can see the opportunity and choose to do things differently because we know what will happen if we do it the old way, and we’re either sick and tired of the old way or we feel deserving of stepping free from the old, harmful pattern. Interestingly here, it doesn’t matter which it is that motivates the change, as long as we respond differently our perspective on ourselves and on any similar situations in the future will be forever changed. I find that truth very, very exciting!! I don’t have to do “it” perfectly, I just have to do it differently! I can handle that, and, I’m willing to bet you can, too!
Point 1 is all about co-dependency. There are a few articles on the blog about that as well as an entire chapter in my book. It is an important component of our use of food to cope and needs to be addressed for recovery to be lasting.
But for this article, we’re going to focus on point #2 and how to side-step the Drill Sgt. and begin to implement the changes we’d like to in key areas of our lives.
So take a moment to think about one thing in your life you wish were different; one pattern of behaviour that you’d like to change. Now, what is the first thing that comes to mind – no censoring now! – when you ask yourself what you’d like to see yourself doing differently in that situation or with that person, etc.?
Ah! Wait! Don’t tell yourself why you can’t have, be, or do that thing! Your authentic self is telling you exactly what you want. Your role, your responsibility, is not to shut yourself down but to seek a way of fulfilling that need. If you can’t immediately come up with a solution, or all you see are roadblocks to getting that need met or to changing that behaviour effectively, that doesn’t for a moment mean that your need is invalid or that you can’t have what you want, it simply means that you’re in need of some assistance to figure out how. (That where CEDRIC comes in!)
Whether you are aware of it or not, you always have the ability, in seconds, to connect with yourself and find out what you really need or want in any situation. That skill never leaves you. It’s just that you’ve likely mastered the art of immediately shutting yourself down with 50,000 all- or-nothing stories of why you’re not allowed to have, be, or do that thing or why it won’t work out for you etc., etc. Your Drill Sgt. (your inner critic) was an apt pupil when you were younger, and he learned from the key people in your life how to get you to sit down, shut up, be good, and not draw attention to yourself or ask anything of anyone.
This was fundamental to your safety and to spare you the pain and anguish of feeling judged and rejected by family and peers. Even now as an adult, when you have the power within you every moment of every day to meet your needs and to be the very best that you can be in all ways, that old training to tune out to your own needs and feelings and instead take responsibility for those of everyone else in the world is running your life. (This, by the way, is the definition of Co-dependency.)
Would you like that to be different?
If so, stop for a moment and ask yourself again, “What is one thing in my life I’d really like to change?”
Then breathe deeply and just ask your true self to show you/tell you what you would really like to see yourself doing differently in regards to that pattern in order for you to feel completely peaceful about that issue/thing/pattern/person what would need to happen?
Stay open, just listen. Notice the tendency to shut yourself down or to immediately tell yourself why you can’t do that or what’s wrong with that idea and continue to just write down your original thought. What was it that your authentic self said that it would like to see you doing differently? That is, before the Drill Sgt. got in there and started trying to close it down.
Now even if it feels far fetched or like you’ve tried it before etc., etc., write down three things that you could do (just small steps – not big undertakings) that start you on the path to create the change you know you want to see. Small steps, by the way, are things that can be reasonably added into your daily life or achieved within a week or two with reasonable effort considering all the other things you have to do in a day.
Many people walk away from their goals at this point. They aren’t conscious of the many assumptions and all-or-nothing stories that their Drill Sgt. conjures up that create barriers to change. They just have an initial thought about something they’d like to experience or see happening differently in their lives, imagine it for a moment, and then the Drill Sgt. offers an objection, a fleeting thought of why it can’t work, and they leave it. They never stop to ask if that fleeting thought was actually grounded in any truth, in reality. They never question whether there could be another solution that could work. They just feel that sense of deflation or pressure that the Drill Sgt.’s objection creates and they set that dream/goal/desire aside thoroughly as though there is no way they can influence their lives to create what they want. This is the best indicator that someone was raised in a circumstance where their needs and feelings were diminished or overlooked, if not outright judged and that this person learned to quickly turn away from anything that seemed at all challenging or that might raise some objections from key people in their lives. They are living their lives in reaction to the potential rejection/objection that might come if they aren’t successful. So many might’s, if’s and maybes that are, mostly unconsciously, determining whether this person lives the life of their dreams of a life of fear and flying under the radar, avoiding at all costs drawing any attention to themselves.
A case in point:
I was visiting a friend recently who is an amazing guitar player. He has played electric guitar (as opposed to classical or acoustic) almost exclusively and was formally trained at a leading university. He’s a star. He can play the most complex songs perfectly. The problem is that because of his formal training, he believes if he hasn’t got the sheet music, doesn’t have time to review the chord changes in depth and familiarize himself with the arrangement, he can’t even attempt the song. Furthermore, he absolutely believes, because of his training, that he can’t just pick up an acoustic guitar and noodle about but must either play his electric (and only songs he’s had lots of time to get to know) or spend years learning the ins and outs of the acoustic before he can even play a song in my living room.
Now, contrast him with me. I’ve had no “formal” training. I’ve had some lessons, I’ve taught myself a lot, and if there’s a song I want to learn to play to accompany my vocals, I just figure out the easiest chord patterns for me to sound as much like the song as I can and go for it. As such, I can pick up a guitar anytime, anywhere and stumble through quite happily – I just enjoy making music. My friend? I’m not even sure he loves music anymore. His Drill Sgt. is so in full force about how it has to look and sound and about the level of perfection he has to reach before he lets anyone hear anything that he’s completely stuck. He’s a far better player than I but no one ever hears him. If you confront him on this he’ll come up with one excuse after another: I don’t know how to play acoustic; I can’t play as far up the neck of the guitar on acoustic as I can on electric; my hands get sore on acoustic; the guitar isn’t good enough quality; the strings are too old; I haven’t had time to practice etc., etc., etc.
In my mind, each of these stories is easily surmountable, but that’s because my mind says: “It’s okay to sound a little off, to not be perfect, just do your best, make it sound as much like the real thing as you can and have fun!” His mind says, “If it isn’t perfect I’m not doing it and since I can’t guarantee it will be perfect, forget it.” So, here one of the best guitarists in the world sits around listening to me and my friends noodle about, and (might I add) robs us of hearing his amazing style and sound, because his Drill Sgt. won’t let him play a note that isn’t perfectly structured.
Each of us has many stories like this about how we have to look, what we have to do or where we have to be before we can…..X. Whatever it is, we’re not allowed it now. We have to be better or at least something other than we are now before we are allowed or deserving of that. What a pile of crap and what a strangling approach to life. Don’t get me wrong. I used to think that way too, about everything. Literally! I just became aware, through my recovery from overeating, restriction and purging with exercise, that I had two choices: I could continue to put my life on hold until I got “there,” knowing that “there” doesn’t exist, that the bar would always keep moving, and that I’d likely always be waiting to start living. Or I could just challenge myself to start living now; to start putting one foot in front of the other and work towards my dreams of health and wellness, balance and peace. Let it be okay to be imperfect. Live for the experience now and not the perfection then.
I remember in one of my master’s degree seminars a Prof. saying that he had friends who were planning their vacation in a very unique way. They weren’t asking themselves where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do or see. Guess what their only criteria for their trip was? The question they were asking themselves in order to plan their vacation was: “How do we want to feel on our vacation?” They were committed to feeling happy and peaceful and to enjoying each other’s company, not to seeing as many sights in one day as they could or making it from here to there in 3 days, or even leaving their living room. It was all about enjoying the journey and not about the destination.
How do you want to feel in your life? How about in your work, in your parenting, in your partnership, in your hobbies and in your home? The only thing preventing you from being here and now and feeling happy and joyful and peaceful and alive is the story you are telling yourself about what you have to have, be or do before you can feel that way.
Ie. I can’t relax until my house is clean! Well, what about the concept of feeling relaxed and happy while you’re cleaning? What about setting realistic goals for how much cleaning you’ll do so you can allow for some fun quality time with your family or save some energy to get out for a walk? Balance. Consider all the areas of your life that you’d like to give attention and make space for each of them. The series we just concluded on self-care walks you through the key steps to beginning to create balance, make space for all the things you value, and quiet that Drill Sgt. as he sees you taking reasonable steps forward towards your goals in all areas of your life.
So, consider again what it is you’d like to see different in your life. Imagine yourself actually achieving that change. Don’t focus on how or when. Just imagine you’ve achieved your goal. How does that feel? What words would you use to describe that sensation? Free? Happy? Peaceful? Content? Proud? Confident? Secure?
Now ask yourself: “How would I like to feel as I’m working towards my goals?”
Free? Happy? Peaceful?….Why not? Who says you have to suffer until you’re there? Only your Drill Sgt. and some of the old all-or-nothing perfectionist thinkers from your past. No healthy person thinks those thoughts. No person with a balanced and fulfilling life thinks that way. You can’t beat the crap out of yourself to get somewhere and then expect, upon arriving, to settle into self-acceptance and peace. No way.
Imagine if your parenting style to get your kids to do their homework and to be “good citizens” was to berate and shame them, to judge them, to reject them until they graduate and get married, have a stable partnership and career, in essence until they, in your estimation, get “there.” What kind of relationship would you have with them then? Is there any way that you can imagine that child of yours feeling comfortable and relaxed around you and that they can stop striving because they’re “there?” No. It wouldn’t work that way. If they’re even still speaking to you at that point, you’d have a lot of work to do to build bridges and mend fences before either of you could even begin to relax in the relationship. Not only that, but because of your modeling for how to motivate and “care” for someone, they would probably have a very tough time just settling in and enjoying the life they’ve created. This is what you’re doing to yourself every moment of every day that you withhold acceptance and approval of yourself until you’re “there.”
Part of getting to that ultimate place of self-acceptance, peace and happiness where you feel safe and secure in yourself and in the world, is building a solid, loving connection with yourself day-by-day, showing yourself with your behaviour towards you that, even if you’re not perfect, even if you make mistakes and take a step backwards (or sideways) every now and then, overall you have trust and confidence in your ability to overcome any obstacle.
Even when it feels like the full manifestation of your goals (your natural weight, that free and easy connection with food, that ideal partnership) is a ways in the distance, if your mantra is “how do I want to feel now?” you’ll not only have much more energy and motivation to keep on keepin’ on but you’ll also really be able to be present for the journey, to start living life today, and to feel happy and excited in the process. I know this to be true because I’ve lived it and have helped hundreds of men and women live it too.
Today invite yourself to notice the many times you’re withholding acceptance and approval from yourself and just ask yourself, “How would I like to feel now?” Allowing yourself happiness and peace in the moment is the path to achieving your goals. I’m here if you want some support to learn how!
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