It's that time of year again when people start taking a moment or two out from the frenetic push toward Christmas to think about the upcoming year. What's working in our lives and what isn't?
It's also the time of year when people come to me, as an expert in creating life-impacting change, to ask how to be more successful getting a new job, improving their marriages, losing weight or overcoming addiction. I know about change both from the success side -- being a recovered alcoholic for more than 17 years -- and the failure side -- still being a good hundred pounds overweight despite two decades of effort to let the weight go. What helps us succeed or destines us to failure? Here's what you need to know about change.
- Resolutions don't help. To be successful in creating change, stay away from resolutions. For the most part, resolutions are dressed up dreams. We want the things we "resolve" to do better about, but most of the time we don't put together an action plan to make the change happen. If you want to lose weight, getting a gym membership isn't going to do anything for you if you don't have a set-in-stone plan to carve out time to go to the gym at least six days a week and a healthy meal plan that you are prepared to follow. We all know how to lose weight. We just don't do what it takes. Wanting something isn't enough. Writing your dream on paper or posting it on Facebook doesn't help. You need a well-thought-out plan, positive support, and determined commitment to make change happen.
Recognize what it takes to meet goals. People often assume I quit drinking because I wanted it bad enough to do it. That is not at all true. I have known hundreds of people who wanted to overcome their addiction as much if not more than I did, and they're now dead. The difference is that I did whatever it took to meet my goal and I kept at it no matter how often I failed. The entire focus of my life for a good five years was on staying sober. When I made the decision to stop drinking, I averaged attendance at one 12-step meeting a day (for years); learned and practiced meditation; became more involved in my spiritual and religious practice; increased the amount of volunteer work I did, particularly with addicts; made plans to ensure that I would be safe at all events I went to and didn't go to activities where I thought I might drink; talked to friends and peers not only about my troubles, but to get their perspective on situations before I took action; got a mentor, a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist; and did everything else that I was told to do to stay sober. It takes tremendous, ongoing effort to make meaningful life change. Recognize this and plan accordingly. Address the underlying reasons for failure. If I was able to overcome alcoholism and remain clean for the better part of two decades, surely I can lose a few pounds! The truth is that success in one area doesn't automatically translate into success in another area. Whenever we are in the process of changing our lives, we have to look at the reasons underlying what we do in the first place. I'm not obese by mistake. Even though I've had a tremendous amount of specialized psychotherapy to help me create a better life for myself, when I get up the courage to lose 15 or 20 pounds, invariably someone says, "Look at how beautiful you are now that some of that extra weight is gone!" -- And I am face down in a tub of ice cream before I get home. Why? Because I have had a lot of trauma in my life and when someone says, "You're beautiful," I hear, "You're going to be really hurt," and I get back into my fat suit quick-as-I-can. Whether it's weight loss or substance abuse or getting a promotion at work, odds are you self-sabotage. Until that self-sabotage is addressed and those underlying issues that keep you stuck are resolved, nothing will change. Change your truth. We all believe things about ourselves, and these "truths" shape our actions. So long as my truth remains, "If you're too small, people will take advantage of you," I will not let the extra weight go. If your personal truth is, "I'm a hopeless addict," or "I don't deserve to get ahead," or "I'm not smart enough," or any other negative thing you tell yourself, your attempt to change will fail.
Transforming your life isn't easy, but it can be done if you are willing to put in any effort required to reach your goal.