The clothes fall to the floor, exposing bare skin. The breath is sucked in and held as first one foot then the other steps onto the scale. Dread, remorse, and shame rise while waiting for the number to register. Frustration and disappointment follow beginning the barrage of self-criticism and resolutions to do better. Goals are set, a plan is made. Intentions and motivation are high. For a short time all efforts are successful. Until one day when the stress is too much and the lack of time cause a revert to old habits like fast food or skipping exercise. Though self-promises are made for the slip to be a one time thing, it's not. Eventually, all efforts are surrender in a hopeless fit of disgust.
While the example is weight loss, this same pattern can be seen when it comes to behavioral change in just about all areas of life. The three biggest that I see with clients are health, finances and relationships. Time is the strongest excuse for self-sabotaging goals. Here are the top three ways people use time as an excuse and how to excuse bust each one.
The safety of time
Our minds are designed for survival. Every experience is indexed into pleasure or pain, safety or threat. Each new experience is evaluated into its possibility. If you've ever said, "I never want to feel that way again," the brain will do all it can to prevent that pain because it is viewed as a threat. If the brain deems a new experience as a risk, it will cause us to project past into future, bypassing the present even if the new experience isn't truly a risk.
In the weight loss example, if the start of the weight gain was using food to ease a painful experience, the brain will try to avoid that pain at all cost. Every stress will be projected from the past as a potential risk. The mind will find opportunities to divert attention, thus maintaining "safety."
Mindfulness is required in order to break the spell of this pattern. When you find yourself using time as an excuse -- "I don't have time" or "I'll do it later" -- ask yourself if that is true. If possible, do something positive toward your goal in that moment. If you sleep in on a morning you were planning to exercise and then say, "I'll exercise later" do some exercise immediately, take the stairs or park farther way from every building you drive to, do calisthenics at stop lights while driving, fit in wall push-up's or squats when you return from a bathroom break.
Pre-paving the path also helps with this habit. Knowing where you may self-sabotage allows you to prepare ahead of time with better options. For example if time will preclude you from making positive meal choices, pack a lunch and keep health snacks on hand. If waking up early enough to exercise is challenge, find a partner to exercise with in the mornings. Accountability to someone else is a big motivator. If you have an abnormally busy schedule, look for the things that aren't really necessary and cut them out.
The perception of not enough time creates extreme stress. The brain triggers a release of cortisol, a survival hormone that prevents to frontal cortex, the rational thinking center, to stop working. The threat of not having enough time is a huge stress for most people.
As Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity teaches, time is relative based on observation. Though we believe we all have the same 24 hours a day and seven days a week, how we observe the exact same experience in time is different. How are you honestly using your time?
Staying busy is a way to numb pain. In our weight loss example, the goal may be to exercise for 30 minutes, but it doesn't happen because of being "too busy." Yet, when you get courageously honest with yourself about how you spent your time, you see several blocks of wasted time surrounded by responsibilities that may be influenced by forces beyond your control -- like a boss, your children's schedule, or a spouses needs.
When you look at what absolutely has to get done in your day and decide to bend time. Set a shorter deadline than normal. You may not know how you will get everything done, but relax into being willing to accomplish it. Move quickly to the next task and repeat the process. You'll find there is less room to "cheat" with distractions, you'll feel more energetic, and the motivation to continue successfully completing tasks is higher than the desire to hide in the excuse of "not enough time."
From "have to" to "want to."
One of the most common time suckers I see with clients is giving time to others. At the root is the need to feel safe, accepted, and loved. The language around giving time is, "I have to." You can give and give receiving little in return when it is for extrinsic motivation. The stress of over-giving to meet emotional needs is another cortisol inducing activity.
There are very few actions that humans truly have to do and most revolve around physical survival. Evaluating what you are doing and why you are doing it allows you the freedom to eliminate some tasks and shift perspective to others.
Let's return to the weight loss example. If you struggle to eat healthy because you have to fix the foods your family likes or you have to dine out with clients, explore alternative options. Do you have to eat what your family is eating or when they eat? If you have a choice of restaurants, choose one that has healthier options. What happens when you don't have time to exercise because you have to get your children ready for school, get to your demanding job, do all the errands, fix everyone dinner? Why are you doing all of those things? Perhaps because you are the only one available to do them, but go deeper. What's the bigger motivation? You want your children to be educated, you want to provide food, clothes and shelter your family so you work. You want them to have a healthy meal, so you cook. Can you feel the energetic shift with the new perspective?
Now as you look at why you want to exercise and eat healthy, you can shift from "have to" to "want to." Perhaps you want to have more energy and be able to participate fully in your loved one's lives for decades to come. The energy of have to brings guilt (and shame when it's not done). When you want to do something, you are more likely to move mountains to make it happen.
The present is a gift
Though it is far to easy to get caught up in the future and what is necessary to make it happen, we only have the present moment. Even in the darkest moments, there is beauty. Being willing to be fully present allows the opportunity to experience the richness of living. Presence opens the door to possibilities. Just because something was one way doesn't mean it ever will be again. Perhaps you did feel pain and you never want to experience that pain again. Unless you're willing to be fully present, you'll never know what options are available for you to change the outcome.
Be mindful, pre-pave, evaluate what is true and know what you want. Focus on and celebrate every single success. Relax fully. into the present and time will cease to serve as an excuse.