The Beupstry

There are plenty of places online to be down. This isn't one of them.

You can change. You’re probably changing right now.

on January 8, 2015

Like all people, I have a set of stories I tell myself about myself.

  • “I’m bad at arithmetic but good at calculus” (no, really! Can’t add, but good at higher math)
  • “I’m no good at taking photographs”
  • “I’m quick to learn new things in general”

One of the most counter-productive stories I tell myself, though, is that I tell myself that “I’m incapable of making changes in my behaviour that stick”

The reality is that that’s not true for any of us. Hell, if you want proof, think of a habit of yours that you’d like to get rid of and see how it’s cemented over the years – maybe it’s eating junk food, watching tv from dinner until bed every night, or drinking more than you’re comfortable with. Let’s say you started out by only drinking on special occasions or weekends and now find yourself having wine with dinner every night. Even if you don’t WANT to be doing that, congratulations! You’ve just proved that your behaviour is capable of being modified!

Now, you may say “well, I didn’t PLAN for that change, it just happened”. It’s probably true that you didn’t plan that change, but there were things in your environment that nudged you in that direction and Lo! Change!

Part of how I reinforce my belief that I can’t make any long-lasting change in my behaviour is that I cherrypick the start & end date of whatever behaviour I’m considering. There’s some natural tendency to do that – we think of ‘starting’ a new behaviour and ‘stopping it’.

But there’s another way to think about it. A way that’s a bit less self-defeating. A way so that you can be easier on yourself.

Here’s a graphical representation of what life looks like (humour me – I’m working with limited built-in icons or there would be TV & computer in there for sure).

Activities

It’s a funny old thing, life.


The stuff I’ve put above the line is ‘exercise’. The stuff below the line is ‘everything else’. That’s an arbitrary separation of course, meant to highlight times of activity and times of rest.

The default way I think about this is to segment times when I’m active and exercising like this:

when I was active and when I was not

Look at all that stopping.

That’s a GREAT way for me to make myself feel bad about myself. It’s all-or-nothing thinking and it reinforces a negative self-perception. Unless I consistently keep up the same behaviour that I’ve started, exactly, I’m just a big quitter and failure.Here’s another way to pick those intervals:

another set of intervals

Look at all that STARTING!

This tells a very different story. This highlights all the times I started exercising because I wanted to. It probably feels unnatural to think of it that way because you’re so used to kicking yourself about not being a robot and sticking to a strict schedule that you assigned yourself.I have made a long-lasting change in my behaviour in that I keep starting over. Each time I do, it gets easier to keep going longer. But it’s ok that I will get bored with a type of activity, or that for whatever reason I want or need to stop for a while. Because I know that I will start again. THAT change has stuck.

Here’s an exercise for you to try – ask a good friend whose known you for a while to help you make a list of behaviour changes you’ve made that have stuck. I assure you there will be some, but if you’re like me, and you’re inclined to be hard on yourself about things like this, you may have trouble seeing them yourself. Friends are great for that kind of thing.

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