Self-Control Not Solving It? Try This Instead.

Change sucks.

It’s the reason we stay in bad relationships, eat the same foods, and overplay songs until we’re sick of them. We tend to like comfort, even when that comfort is uncomfortable.

Simply put, we’re creatures of habit. And when we decide to break a habit, we rarely have an immediate epiphany or feeling of freedom (no matter what those inspirational Instagram seem to say.) More often than not, change temporarily causes everything from anxiety, to depression, to a Ben & Jerry’s binge.

For example, I spent nine years in a relationship when I should have left after five. Why? Because making a change, even a necessary change, pushes you out of your comfort zone and into that awkward place that nobody likes called “growth.”

But, much like growing out a bad haircut, change doesn’t happen overnight.

Sure, we have growth spurts brought on by moments of clarity, loss, or motivation. But for the most part, humans don’t change until their discomfort in their current situation becomes greater than their fear of change. Growth is rarely linear and often requires a tipping point.

This wave-like cycle of upheaval and clarity is known as evolutionary catharsis. And, just like cleaning your closet, it gets a lot messier before it get better. The end result is that kick-ass “aha” moment when our brain is reorganized into a new state of greater awareness, functioning, and simplicity. We feel more connected to ourselves and are ready to take the necessary steps to get where we want in life.

So how does this work?

Right before we have a growth spurt, many of us have a temporary feeling of discomfort. This manifests as self-defeating behaviors. Learned in childhood as coping mechanisms,

These behaviors fall into three categories:

1. Those that try to reduce the amount of overwhelm by pushing energy out, such as:

  • yelling
  • compulsive behaviors
  • sickness

2. Those that block additional energy from entering the system, such as:

  • depression
  • withdrawal
  • loss of appetite

3. Those aimed at distracting from the growing chaos inside them, such as:

  • any form of addiction
  • a ton of television-time
  • overworking

These three types of coping mechanisms are our system’s final, desperate attempts to preserve our status quo. After all, it’s scary and stressful to step into a new way of being. I’ve heard coaches call this “de-evolution,” but that's a misnomer as it’s a natural part of the evolutionary process. Whether we reach for the bottle, an ex, or the remote control, it’s all part of the process. Our goal is not to judge these attempts, but to notice them with genuine curiosity. (Full disclosure: writing that last sentence made me gag a little, but it’s true. Judging ourselves for our coping mechanisms doesn’t make them any easier to change.)

Our belief around what growth “should” look like is nothing more than our inner-critic shouting louder than our inner-nurturer. As we release old beliefs, our brains have a hard time balancing the volume of these voices. Eventually, it levels out and new, truthful ideas emerge.

The Solution

While these self-defeating behaviors may temporarily release the pressure of growth, the end result is keeping our system stagnant. Learning to tolerate the discomfort rather than running away from it allows us to take that quantum leap into the next state of awareness, tolerance, and resilience.

Ironically, our fight to indulge in these sabotaging behaviors is what keeps us playing small, making the process longer and more painful. The solution comes down to self-surrender. We must be willing to surrender the person we are now to foster the person we can become.

Whatever your brand of self-defeating behavior, it’s time to tune in to the parts of yourself these behaviors are trying drown out. Notice the voice that shouts the loudest and the voice that suddenly became silent.

  • What are they saying?
  • What do these parts of you want?
  • How can you be more compassionate toward them?

Sure, it’s easier said than done. And I’m certainly not perfect. Like all of us, my relationship with myself is constantly evolving. I’ve found that self-control has only led to quick changes that are hard to sustain. The lasting life-changes all resulted from listening to and embracing the parts of myself these actions tried to mute.

It’s not always fun. In fact, it rarely is. But you know what’s worse? Staying stuck.

Healthy Selfishness: How To Stop People-Pleasing and Start Prioritizing Yourself

Chances are, you can name one thing you could be doing to take care better care of yourself. And despite knowing that drinking more water/meditating each day/ flossing your teeth is good for you, I’m willing to bet that you’re still not doing it.

It's likely because:

  1. You don’t have enough time
  2. It’s inconvenient or annoying
  3. The advantages/disadvantages are too far in the future to seem relevant
  4. It tastes/feels like crap
  5. It would involve saying “no” to something or someone else

I often write about issues #1-3 when discussing procrastination, time management, or motivation.

But, today I’m doing a deep dive into issue #5: Setting Boundaries. Or, as I like to call it, “how to say “no” to them and “yes” to me without seeming like a selfish jerkface.”
(And sorry, I can’t do much about Issue #4. Kale will never taste like a cupcake.)

Like most people, I care what people think. I care whether my friends think I’m supportive and I care whether the guy at the bakery judges me when I ask him to write affirmations in icing on the 5” chocolate cake I buy for myself (true story!)

Unlike most people, I’ve accepted and internalized that self-care needs to be my biggest priority. But that wasn’t always true. For most of my life, I put others first only to be surprised when I’d get sick, feel disappointed, burn out, etc. I assumed that I felt sick, tired, or sad because of the job, the boyfriend, or the autoplay feature on Netflix. But, like all things, the common denominator was me. If I wanted to feel balanced and blissful, I was the one that needed to change.

As we all know, change sucks and is never easy.

A lifetime of saying “yes,” people-pleasing, and over-achieving wasn’t going to change overnight. In fact, it was so ingrained in me that I often didn’t even know I was saying “yes” when I really meant “no.” Over time, all of those yeses added up to exhaustion, frustration, and unmet expectations. I struggled to find a way to support others sustainably without compromising my health and happiness.

Once I accepted that I was my biggest obstacle, I started looking at the ways I kept these patterns alive. And that’s when it hit me: I was giving away my time and energy, telling people I had no expectations when I most definitely expected them to reciprocate my actions in the future. I’d tell friends “of course, I don’t mind picking you up from the airport,” only to feel disappointed waiting for a cab in the dead of winter.

If my life is the result of my actions and non-actions, then changing my life is also within my control.

From that moment, I started employing a strategy that changed my life. It empowered me to communicate effectively, transform my relationships, and create more energy, happiness, and time. Here it is:

Is your “yes” really a “no?”

The goal of this exercise is to identify, manage, and communicate your needs so that you’re better able to prioritize yourself.

1. Pause.

Before offering to help, accepting an invitation, or saying “yes,” ask yourself:

  1. Am I prepared to do this without any hope that it will be returned to me in any shape or form (now or in the future?)
  2. What will this cost me now? 6 months from now? (consider your time, energy, and sanity)
  3. Is my desire to say “yes” driven by generosity or because I think that prioritizing myself will result in a negative outcome?

2. Decide.

If you can’t act without expectation, consider the cost.
If the cost is too great, consider your reason.
If your reason is based in fear, consider yourself more.

Simply put, decide whether saying “yes” to them means saying “no” to you. If so, choose to prioritize yourself.

3. Communicate.

State your boundary clearly, directly, respectfully, without qualifying statements or rationales. Saying “I can’t work late on the project today” is more effective than “I can’t work late because my cousin’s friend’s baby is having a birthday party, but I will work on the project when I get home at 10pm.”

4. Maintain.

The other person’s reaction has nothing to do with you. Avoid the temptation to weaken or take back your response. Doing so damages your self-trust, continues to prioritize others, and teaches others that your words have no meaning.

5. Reinforce.

You may need to remind yourself and others of your boundaries. That’s okay! Putting yourself first is a new behavior and will take practice and patience.

Use this tool to ensure you're creating space for yourself, your needs, and your happiness.

One more thing...

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The 5 Obstacles Standing Between You & What You Want

Here’s a secret most coaches and therapists won’t admit: We know within the first 10 minutes of meeting you whether you’ll achieve your goals. What?! How's that possible?!

While I can’t see the future, I do see the same 5 challenges hold people back from achieving their full potential. Not surprisingly, there are 5 traits that propel people forward. Coincidence? I think not.

Whether in our personal or professional lives, we've all been guilty of self-sabotage (myself included!) Thankfully, you can spot and stop the obstacles getting in your way, replacing them with behaviors that serve you instead:

Obstacle #1: You don’t accept responsibility for EVERYTHING.

Whether it's other people, the past, or the outcome of the presidential election, there are many things we can't control. There are times when life simply sucks. And when that happens, those who bounce back focus on opportunity instead of blame. They don’t wait for an answer or apology because they know that solving any situation requires owning it in its entirely. Bluntly put, if you feel shitty, it’s YOUR problem, not theirs. The good news is that the fix is also up to you. Whether it’s stating your truth, leaving, getting help, or anything else, you’re in charge of how you feel. This is by far the most challenging obstacle on the list. But once you’ve mastered it, it’ll lead to the biggest results. 

Shift It: Accept that no matter your situation, change is up to you.

Obstacle #2: Your thoughts and actions bring you down.

For any outcome, there’s a specific way of thinking and acting that will get you what you want. Your current situation is the result of your current actions and beliefs. To create a new outcome, you need to identify the thoughts and actions of those who have what you want and then adopt them. For someone who's in debt, she might ask herself "what do financially savvy people do?" As challenging as it might be, she might start tracking her expenses, going to Debtor's Anonymous meetings, etc.  It might feel foreign at first, but soon these new actions will create new thought patterns (and lead to new results!) Over time, you’ll transform your beliefs into ones that serve you and release the ones that previously held you back.

Shift It: As they say, “fake it til you make it.”

Obstacle #3: You want the new without giving up the old.

There’s always a price to pay to achieve what you want. New results come from new actions. If you want to run a marathon, but you don’t want to get off the couch, don’t be surprised when things don’t go as planned. This doesn’t mean change has to be filled with pain, the truly successful view paying the price as a positive instead of a negative. They focus on the joy of what they’re doing, rather than the pain of what they’re giving up.

Shift It: To view new steps more positively, focus on the pleasure of achieving your goal rather than the pain of change. Simply put, look at what you’re adding instead of what you’re giving up. 

Obstacle #4: You imagine the worst-case scenario…and unknowingly create it.

Whether or not you believe in manifesting, vision boards, or the law of attraction, one thing is always true: What you think is what you see. For example, I have a good friend who wants to be in a loving relationship. But, since she’s convinced that “all the good ones are taken,” she doesn’t put herself out there. She won’t go on a dating site and thinks that any guy who comes up to her must be “a loser.” Not surprisingly, her fear of being alone forever ensures that she will be.

Shift It: Focus on what you want, not what you want to avoid. This subtle difference creates massive change.

Obstacle #5: You buy your own bullshit.

Harsh, but true. “Reasons” are just excuses that we’ve bought into. When people tell me they “don’t have enough time” to meditate/exercise/respond to emails, I often wonder how they still have time to stalk their ex on Facebook. If you truly want to achieve your goal, you’ll trade your rationalizing for resourcefulness.

Shift It: Prioritize your goal by creating more time and questioning why you haven’t achieved it thus far.

The Takeaway:

Don’t blame your friends, finances, or fiancé- You are your biggest obstacle. And that's a good thing! Because changing your mindset is within your control. Remember, you have everything you need to succeed, you simply need to get out of your own way.

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