If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit or follow through on a life-changing new resolution, then you know what it’s like to lose steam sometimes and fall short of your goals. We’ve all been there.
That second brownie, that gorgeous person who isn’t ready for a healthy relationship, those Netflix episodes late at night, that expensive coat you know you can’t afford. We can wake up with great resolve – and by 3pm, we know we’re fighting a losing battle.
It doesn’t end there though!
When we’ve failed to follow through on our resolutions, we’ll beat ourselves up and feel even worse. Sometimes we’ll give up trying for change all together.
Well, consider this: What if willpower was never meant to do such heavy lifting?
If you really think about it…How on earth is your busy, tired, over-distracted mind supposed to act with strong resolve when you’re also desperate for the quick comfort and relief that an old habit brings?
Try Diving Deeper
When you’re ready to change a behavior, it is time to look underneath the surface at what’s really driving you.
We are all incredibly complex beings. We may truly want to lose weight, make more friends, leave a bad relationship, work harder, or stop watching late-night TV, but we also have strong needs and hidden agendas that can fuel us in the opposite direction.
For example, a woman might know she should stop sleeping with a man who doesn’t treat her well. But the minute he calls, she forgets the past and they wind up in bed that night.
What happened – is she just weak?
Perhaps part of her is. But more likely this woman (like all of us) has a whole host of underlying needs and patterns that are pulling her in different directions. Perhaps she learned as a child to always be loyal, no matter what others do to her. Or she may be afraid that if she sends the man away, no one else will ever come along. Or, she may be so used to being a victim that it’s a hard role to give up.
Although most of us have become quite good at berating ourselves for “falling off the wagon” (whatever that wagon is for us), we need to start giving ourselves more credit and legitimacy.
Each one of us has very valid needs and fears that play a huge role in the way we behave – whether we are aware of them or not.
If we want to achieve a goal, or to let go of an unhealthy pattern, the quickest, most graceful way to do this is by exploring what hidden needs and fears are driving our unwanted behaviors.
A couple years ago, I worked with a woman who was trying to save money and wasn’t able to. The minute she’d have more than what was needed for basic survival, she started throwing money away on items she didn’t need, big tips for service providers, charity donations, and so on. No amount of self-control helped her save when she was on a spending spree.
She felt embarrassed around friends and family that she did not yet have her own home and hadn’t accumulated any kind of wealth. So I helped her pay attention to the feelings that arose around accumulating wealth, and it quickly became obvious that she felt overwhelmed by it.
You see, my client had grown up in a very well-off family who would buy her a ton of material things. The problem was that there was such anger and chaos in the household that the whole situation felt stressful. Her nervous system linked affluence with danger.
So we needed to support and heal the parts of her that had felt overwhelmed and scared as a child, then she could become free to move into a more adult relationship with her finances. Her savings are now steadily growing.
The bottom line is that if we’re acting in a way that bothers or disappoints us – we have an opportunity to explore the reasons we’re behaving that way. Likely, underneath it all, we are hurting and just trying to get our basic needs met. The needs could be for love, affection, safety, freedom, power, etc. Rather than judging ourselves or firing up our inner drill sergeant, it’s well worth taking the time to investigate what’s moving us.
When we’ve soothed the parts that are hurting, and nourished the parts that are starving, we can then set life-affirming goals and stand by them easily.
Until next time….