A Change Is As Good As A Rest
Is it though? Purposeful change is far from restful. Introducing habits is easy, maintaining them takes motivation, commitment, determination, a shift in thinking and consistent behavioural changes.
We are nearing the end of January any intentions or resolutions set on the 1st Jan may have dissolved or now be requiring a Trojan effort to maintain. I might be wrong, you may have established a whole new set of daily habits and behaviours. If so please share your wisdom with us!
People assume as a therapeutic practitioner you have all the answers and live a pure, balanced life. The reality is therapists may desire to live a happier, healthier life but we go through the same processes. We don’t have a magic key or pill.
All any of us want is to feel better and happier. Most actions and behaviours are with that desired outcome in mind. The route we choose may not always appear to be healthy or positive such as; overeating, drinking or spending money but are carried out with the belief that we will feel better as a result. Why wouldn’t we turn to these things, we have an evidence base that they have worked before and made us feel good? Eating chocolate, sipping prosecco, buying an item of clothing all provide gratification but only in the short term. This brings us to the thorny problem of the propensity to rely on these external stimuli to alter our state or for moments of feelgood. I’m not suggesting that everyone who eats chocolate overeats or who drinks has a problem, but you can see how it could increase. Even perceived healthy pursuits can develop into an unhealthy reliance in order to achieve a settled mind. I know many people who feel fraught if unable to go to the gym or for a run.
My husband David is in recovery from alcohol use, his 7 year sober anniversary is coming up. The fact that he has achieved this genuinely inspires me. That takes some serious commitment and change. What doesn’t inspire me is his enviable capacity to eat considerable quantities of chocolate, cake, biscuits, ice cream and sweets without gaining an ounce of weight. I realise there are other health risks and problems relating to this but I can only focus on the unfairness of not gaining weight.
So, my own personal resolutions / intentions for 2018, I had a long list some relating to being, some relating to doing and some a combination of the two.
I recently stopped smoking. I have smoked on and off for most of my adult life – there I said it out loud! I am conscious that I visibly cringed as I declared my status as an unhealthy, addicted, social pariah – which completely contradicts my status as a therapeutic practitioner. Smoking had increasingly become a source of embarrassment to me, my dirty little secret which I have knowingly concealed from some people. I have felt like a dinosaur, a relic from a time passed, a bit old school really. For me it conjured up images of the police officer or journo with a bottle of whisky in his drawer, maybe once upon a time this was the norm but we have moved on from this.
Over the years I have achieved multiple, short and also extended periods of non smoking. I have white knuckled it, used hypnotherapy, self help tools, nicotine replacement, prescription medication… Once I drank a glass of water every time I wanted a cigarette. I will admit to historically using my knowledge and experience to justify avoiding stopping or relapsing to prove these methods “didn’t work.”
I doggedly hung on to this behaviour in the misguided belief that smoking was integral to who I was, part of my personality. This is not unusual in addictions. I have come across many people over the years who believe that if their drug of choice was stripped away there would be nothing left of them or a significant part of them missing. The fact is with addictions, the hole was there in the first place and the addiction was used to fill it.
You would imagine that working with people with drug and alcohol addictions would have made me address my behaviour. “Physick Heal Thyself.” Not at all, it actually made me think that my addiction was “not that bad” and therefore my smoking was justified.
For every reason I had to stop smoking, I was able to present significantly more reasons to continue this habit. We are very adept at justifying and making things right in our heads, we have to in order to continue a behaviour that causes a level of conflict or discomfort.
Do I want to smoke? I like the ‘idea’ of smoking. The myths floating around my head are; being sat in a pavement café, or outside a restaurant, watching the world go by sipping a drink, smoking and chatting with friends. The inside voice says “I would smoke if: they were free, if they didn’t cause health problems and if smoking were socially acceptable.”
Fact; my friends either never smoked or no longer smoke, sitting outside restaurants or in pavement café’s is not a part of my regular routine, cigarettes are ridiculously expensive and life shortening. Reality is shivering, huddled outside furtively smoking, being skint and not feeling entirely comfortable with it.
My desire to smoke significantly reduced since forming Being Better which meant changes had already happened, this has made the final transition much less painful. So NO I don’t want to smoke. I am aware it is early days and I am far from home and dry..
In order to sustain these change’s it has been necessary for me to make other changes. I am having a ‘Dry January’ to avoid association and being disinhibited to smoke. This is no hardship as living with someone in recovery means the inclination to drink is significantly reduced.
I am aware that previous relapses have come about as a reaction to weight gain. Therefore this needed to be a considered factor in my plan. I am overweight but not morbidly so. I have developed an understanding about my reasons for weight gain and therefore arrived at a state of acceptance about my general body weight which doesn’t fluctuate greatly, with the exception of when I have stopped smoking.
During my NLP diploma I experienced revelations and insight around my weight and my inability to transfer the intent to lose weight into action. It became apparent that I wasn’t really concerned about my appearance, I had far more body insecurities when thin. The root of my weight gain was a belief that if you are carrying extra weight, this is an indicator of being ‘well.’ I recognised I was preoccupied with developing cancer and saw “thinness” as a possible indicator of disease. Many people close to me had cancer diagnoses. I also held a belief that my chances of survival were greater if I had weight to lose. I realised there was no empirical or scientific evidence to substantiate my beliefs. However the ‘Aaaaahh that makes sense’ feeling of relief was so liberating to me and enabled me to work on the fears beneath my behaviour. I also had strong associations with thinness being a result of poverty.
Changing behaviours around food is the toughest for me. Let’s face it we don’t need to smoke or drink alcohol to survive but we do need to eat.
A celebrity once said, “There is no food that tastes as good as the feeling of being thin.” I completely disagree with this and would challenge that they have never eaten my cooking or baking!
I adore cooking and baking, I find it incredibly cathartic and therapeutic for many reasons. The alchemy of putting ingredients together and creating something is incredibly rewarding to me.
Food is so powerful and evocative. While working in a community drug and alcohol project I used to provide baking for team meetings, It resulted in people being kinder to each other. While working in the needle exchange iced sprinkle buns or snacks were my weapons of choice in luring heroin and crack users into treatment. Admittedly food is not a priority for people with an entrenched drug habit, as they had often not eaten for some time. The more powerful reasons for providing food was the reminder of a time when life was ok or that being “treated” to a bun meant they were valued as people.
I am renowned for cooking and baking by friends and family. The kitchen is the heart of my home, a welcoming place where good times are shared and problems are solved. Some people may consider me a “feeder” which I consider a deeply negative and unpleasant term. I believe I demonstrate my care and love for people through the food I provide. I strive for a nurturing environment and food is integral to that. I grew up where food was a necessity for survival not something to be created or celebrated.
There are countless diets, products and slimming organisations out there and I am not about to profess I have any knowledge about which work the best. I can only speak for myself in that If I stop snacking, reduce fat and sugar, I lose weight – its that simple for me. What I don’t want is to feel deprived and surly although I can talk myself into this.
Ironically my favourite foods are fresh fish, colourful tasty salads and fresh fruit, which is why I tend to return from holiday’s abroad having lost weight. An additional factor is I love exploring and walking when on holiday. So then, why don’t I replicate these behaviours at home? No excuses, no justification, the honest truth is climate. I am of an age where I’m a bit creaky and warmth helps. I have no desire to cook or eat a roast dinner in blazing sunshine – so yes I unconsciously adopt healthier habits in summer.
I guess what I’m saying is when we are declaring an intent to make positive changes, “I should… I need to…” Note there is no “want” there. Maybe we need to examine the reasons why we don’t want to or aren’t doing it.
There comes a point where you have to make a decision about any change. I am using food as an example, what do you like more, being a certain size or enjoying food without guilt. As I said earlier I am probably more comfortable and confident in my size 16-18 body than I ever was in my size 8-10 body.
If you want to make changes in any area make sure it’s for the right reasons, not to please others, not because society and media tells us what’s attractive or what’s good for us but because the change process as well as the end result will make you feel happier and more comfortable in your skin.
If making changes are not working for you, maybe it’s the approach that’s wrong, not the change.
List your intentions or desired changes
List the benefits of new behaviours / habits
List the things that can happen if you don’t make a change
Prepare for change, plan ahead
Tell people your intent and how you plan to achieve it
Identify risk situations, people, places, thoughts & feelings
Use social media, apps & books to support your changes
If you stumble dust yourself off and keep going
Avoid negative self talk
Plan distractions unrelated to the change to avoid it becoming all consuming