Have you ever started something with the best of intentions; a job search, a health goal, a new year’s resolution, then abandoned it half-way through?
The problem is that impossibly long, lonely middle-ground that stands between you and your goal.
If you’re working through a 2020 resolution, this is the point where most people (90% according to statistics) feel like giving up. And it’s not just an idle feeling, it’s a deep rethinking of everything you swore you truly wanted.
Whether your resolution involved a new job, building a business (like me!) or a starting a new wellness routine, you’re now wondering if it’s worth staying the course.
The rosy outlook, the optimism and excitement, is giving way to a new, less cheerful voice.
This new voice is one of frustration, it may be telling you to give up and go back to your old routine. We’ll call this the Stuck voice. Of course the voice on the other end of this inner conversation is coaxing you to hang in there and stay the course, stay with the plan. We’ll call this voice the Visionary.
“You’re already overwhelmed with everything else going on, and right now the timing is bad.” says your change hating, Stuck voice.
“But you know this is a path to a more joyful life, and if not now, when? ” argues the change loving Visionary.
What’s happening here? Why is the hater side gaining so much momentum all of a sudden? Which side will win?
The answer depends on your backup plan. Change always takes longer than we think it will. It’s not just me saying that, it’s a bias in our thinking – it’s called the Planning Fallacy, or Optimism Bias and it’s one of the most common and consistent thought patterns.
Meaning our brains are wired to think overly optimistically about how long something will take. And when our predictions are wrong, we begin to doubt our abilities to stay the course.
Staying the Course
In any serious transition; where you’re challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and into something new, you’ll go through a series of stages. From novelty and excitement, to boredom, to disillusionment, to progress and more excitement, then finally to success.
Along with you on this rollercoaster ride sits the voice in your brain that hates change. During the dips in the cycle, the Stuck voice becomes louder and louder.
This happens for 2 reasons:
Change takes energy, and one of your brain’s primary functions is to conserve energy. So if your transition process is long, as in starting a business or reaching a health goal, you’ll probably go through more than one of these roller coaster cycles before finally reaching your goal.
Change is never linear. One large step forward often means two small steps back. Big picture progress includes small setbacks. These setbacks can feel like failures in the moment. And if you give into them, they will be.
So before you’re in the thick of it, while Visionary voice is still in charge, decide how you’ll recharge your change plan.
This is as simple as planning what you’ll do when you want nothing more than to give up.
The trick is to find the recharge strategies that will work to distract and revitalize you. In these cases, you need to get out of your head to stop that negative brain loop.
This strategy is sometimes called when When-then Planning. Because when the Stuck voice is looming large, it’s tough to turn off without bringing some outside elements into the mix. In other words, you can’t think your way out. Instead plan to DO something you find both immediately rewarding and which aligns with your goals.
Here are my favorite When-Then ideas for recharging your change plan:
When I feel tempted to get under the covers and cry over my lack of measurable progress, or when I’ve already started crying and feeling like a failure, I will:
1. Clean out my closet and start getting rid of anything that represents outdated styles or ideals.
Yup, I literally review my wardrobe and find at least 5 things I no longer have use for. Like that blouse I overpaid for and have no idea why. The bargain dress that would look awesome on someone willing to expose their knees in public. Last year’s boots – see ya!
If you try this one at home, don’t worry about what to do with these items, just put them aside for now. My next blog covers this strategy in more detail. This type of big-picture decluttering is one of my favorite ways to make room for new possibilities!
While there is no one right way to journal, it’s there are some pointers for maximizing the benefits. Find a quiet space, allow yourself at least 15 minutes. Keep your journal private (and judgement-free). Sum up your entry in a sentence or two at the end.
Making a regular practice out of this is a great way to review your progress when it feels like you’re at a standstill.
3. Do something you’re good at.
On your path to transformation you’re a newbie, still finding your legs. But in other parts of your life, you’re a star. Do something that makes you feel proficient to remind yourself of your strengths and capabilities. And if it helps someone else, better still!
The traits for success, identified more than a decade ago by psychologist Martin Seligman, founder of the field of Positive Psychology, include grit (or a sturdy perseverance), self-control, optimism, zest, curiosity, social and emotional intelligence, gratitude, joy, and resilience.
Using When-Then planning to move from thinking to doing gives your Stuck voice a break by taking you out of your head long enough to shift your perspective.
No you have a chance to hear your Visionary voice and renew your commitment to the perseverance, optimism and resilience required for a successful outcome.
No matter how worth the results, change is hard. But as the Dalai Lama reminds us, “Pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional.”