When you are moving in the direction of what you hope for, you start to get excited – you’re all set for the change and are ready to enjoy all the fabulousness of your new life. And there is silence…….just crickets. Same ole life — only harder — because you are actively working on your hopes and dreams. It gets really tempting to throw in the towel. Maybe you’ll start next Monday or next month – or maybe in the new year.
Somehow we expect that when we give something up or start a new behavior, it should be easy and we should get immediate results. But — think about it — if it were that easy, wouldn’t it be happening already? The truth is that it’s hard. Like really, really hard. The good news is that the difficulty is TEMPORARY.
1. Stamina: Success is going to take a lot of stamina. Do not underestimate the amount of energy that is going to be required. It’s easy to lose weight at the fancy spa that serves low calorie delicious organic meals while you take in the beautiful scenery surrounding you. It’s not so easy at the end of a stressful day when you’re tired and hungry and without even intending it somehow find yourself sitting in the McDonald’s drive-thru. Trying to live a new way requires extra energy….and when you’re depleted, it’s fairly automatic to revert to the old ways because falling into old habits really doesn’t require much effort.
2. Preparation, patience, practice and persistence: Capturing your hopes and dreams is a marathon – not a sprint. Changing a behavior is the equivalent of participating in a distance race. What if I asked you to get up right now and run a marathon. Go. Yes — right now! With only the clothes you are wearing right now and only the shoes on your feet. Ready…set….26.2 miles…GO!
But before you start running…even if you are ready and willing to take my challenge, even if you’re in great shape — even if you’re wearing a track suit –you probably aren’t going to make it. How will you know when you’ve gone the whole way? I haven’t shown you the map. How will you fuel yourself? I didn’t give you any energy bars. And what about water? Clearly, taking me up on my challenge isn’t a wise idea. But notice, you don’t feel bad about yourself nor has your self-esteem suffered because you can’t run my imaginary marathon right now…because you know that it is a silly request. You’re fine because…well, you know that asking you to run a marathon without preparation is ridiculous, dangerous and probably impossible. You don’t have expectations on yourself that you would succeed.
Yet, when you make the decision to lose weight…or to stop buying things you can’t afford…or stop the affair…or stop drinking…or start writing your book…or start exercising…or start your business… or go back to school – or whatever you hope for……you beat yourself up because you’re not doing it or changing immediately. Expecting perfection and immediate results is like ordering yourself to run a marathon right now. You are not operating under the right mindset because achieving dreams is a marathon. And if you are mad at yourself, you aren’t being realistic or compassionate with yourself. You might as well be asking ourselves to run a marathon completely untrained, unprepared and unsupported. You can’t do it, not because you’re failure or loser. You can’t do it because that is not the way you are wired. You aren’t built to go from 0 to 26.2. But you ARE built to go from 0 to 1 and from 1 to 2 or 3 and so on until 26.2 or higher.
3. Action and Inertia: I ran a marathon once. It was a harrowing experience. At the starting gate I was high on life thinking — “I’ve got this! I can do this!” and felt really proud of myself for taking on such a challenge. I felt at one with everyone at the race and all of the planets and stars were aligned for me. When the race started, I worked my plan — one step at a time, taking one step after another. I was so proud of myself…Yipee! Unfortunately, my elation was short-lived. Six miles into the race I was still happy, but it started to feel like work. But I persevered…and kept taking one step after the other. At miles nine to eleven I’m still feeling pretty happy…but I’ll be honest — I wasn’t loving everyone around me as much as I did when I started and I was wondering if maybe a star or two had slipped out of alignment. But I kept on! One step…after the other.
By mile 17 I was so grumpy and not loving anybody very much including myself for taking on this really stupid endeavor. But stopping at this point wasn’t really an option. I had to keep going. One…step…after…the other.
Mile 20 saw tears and maybe even a little cursing. I was really hating every…miserable…moment. No point in stopping now though…all I could do was continue to take one step after the other.
Somewhere during mile 25 — the last mile — something magical happened. I heard the crowd cheering me on. A few minutes later I was though the finish line and there was a medal hanging around my neck! What a wonderful world! I love everything again! That dream of mine was accomplished – regardless of the thoughts in my head and my shifting mood – with one simple step…after the other.
4. Self-Compassion: You’re asking a lot of yourself. You are one of the few who are willing to walk the road less traveled. But I have a question: are you a compassionate person? I’m guessing you would say absolutely. Of course you are. You’re kind-hearted and loving…..to others. What is the answer if I ask you if you are compassionate with yourself? Not so much…huh? I thought so. I used to suffer from this one. Others deserved my compassion, but I should know better or do better or be better and I never cut myself a break. But then I learned a simple truth: “you can’t give away what you do not have.” If you simply can’t find it in yourself to be compassionate with yourself – get help from a supportive professional counselor or life coach, because you can’t get to your hopes and dreams without having self-compassion.
5. Faith: I’ve heard the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson say that “there is no such thing as a faithless person.” To me, that means you can have faith that things will go well…or you can have faith that they won’t go well. Faith can be in yourself, faith in these hope articles, faith in God or faith that you can do it differently – that you can choose differently. Think about what you have faith in and re-up or perhaps move your faith to optimism, goodness and triumph. That day of the marathon I had faith that I could cross the finish line. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I had faith in my training, my legs, my mind and my spirit.
I’m so excited for you as you work toward your hopes and dreams and how wonderful that they are guaranteed!!
If you want more tips on how to sustain a change, read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. It’s got all the current research on willpower and it’s well written and interesting.