Friday, November 04, 2011
It's as old as time itself. The story of a couple hooking up but one of the pair is afraid of making a long term commitment to the relationship for fear of how it would restrict their future choices. In literature and film, it usually results in the relationship falling apart at the seams with the offending party realising too late that their one chance of happiness is now lost forever. Cue sappy violin music.
Yes, a commitment made today is going to have an impact on our futures. What is so marvellous about this is that we have to power to envision a better future and the ability to make choices to support it. So why are so many people still stuck in their present seemingly unable to move towards what they can clearly understand to be something better?
What many of us don't realise is that it isn't making a commitment today that is holding us back; it's often the commitments we've subconsciously made in our past that are keeping us stuck.
Now, I'm not suggesting that someone who wants to quit smoking has ever looked in the mirror and said, "I'm going to keep smoking these things until they kill me." But everyone is committed to ideas they have chosen to hold about themselves from their past. Maybe our smoker has tried many times in the past to quit. He's told everyone he's going to quit and everyone said "woohoo, way to go, good for you!". He even managed to quit for 6 months before he took a puff at a holiday party and found himself buying a pack the next day. By New Year's Eve he was thinking about trying to quit again - but kept buying cigarettes and smoking them. He just couldn't find the commitment he needed to get back on track.
I believe our smoker is already committed to something else entirely. Maybe he's committed to avoiding the feelings of embarrassment, shame and frustration he feels from having all of his friends and family watch him fail time and time again. Maybe he's committed to not failing again because that stinks and he's just not up for failure. We all know how easy it is to not fail by not trying - no chance of failure then! Or maybe he's committed to the image of himself as a smoker - choosing to believe his tough guy pose is more important than some far off threat of ill health. After all, grampa McCoy died at 95 with a cigarette in one hand and a shot of whiskey in the other! Whatever his commitment is, it's holding him back now from making the changes he wants to make.
Understanding what you're already committed to an important part of the journey to making change. Beliefs about yourself and your role in life start young and you begin to gather evidence to support these ideas. Once you've put some bricks and mortar to these beliefs, the commitment to them is firm.
Trying to make change that is contrary to these underlying commitments is hard. But not impossible. I spent many years believing that I was predestined to be obese as many people in my family are and I'd had enough failed attempts at dieting to reinforce that idea. Every time I tried to lose weight and failed, these beliefs would resurface adding fuel to my commitment to be a card carrying member of a fat family. Whatever I tried didn't work so I gave up and denied the pain it caused me. It was only when I started to feel the pain of shame, fear and failure that I began to do the work I needed to do to make change.
I finally acknowledged that I was sick of feeling like a failure; that being obese was scaring me to death and the only way I was going to fix it is by embracing change. I had lots of experience in what didn't work - going on a diet and suddenly increasing my exercise to the point of pain and exhaustion were chief among them. I knew with certainty that going down that road was going to doom me to failure and I didn't want to fail - failure just hurt too much.
Success meant acknowledging my commitment to my ideas about predestined obesity but moving forward with simple steps that built on one another over time. Oh, there were lots of times when failure crept in. And everytime the scale showed a bump in the wrong direction, my prior commitment screamed profanities at me. It's pretty strong, so I didn't try to fight it. I just let it wear itself out and then I let it go. Binge on Thursday? Get up on Friday with a renewed sense of commitment. After a healthy breakfast and a brisk walk, I'd check in with how I was feeling about it, acknowledge the power of feeling GREAT and let the anger and regret from the night before slide away.
It took many months (actually years!) of practicing this technique to lose 85lbs and I still hear that nasty voice of my former commitment raging in my head but she hasn't much power over me any longer. And that's a very good feeling!
What are you committed to and how is it helping or hurting YOU?
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