Much of my work is with people who have weight problems and I often hear the refrain “I’ll do it (my diet) on Monday”. But I guess this is just as relevant for people with alcohol and drug problems, people with more serious eating disorders, with gambling addictions or even for some of us just trying to go to the gym regularly. It’s perhaps true for anyone attempting some sort of positive lifestyle change. In fact, the more I think about it, perhaps it’s true for nearly every one of us – maybe not all the time but at some time in our daily lives.
I wonder what it is about certain behaviours, particularly unhelpful and even unhealthy ones that allows us to put off committing to a change in our life that we know will allow us to feel better both physically and emotionally. And even when we have started making a change, small “failures” as we perceive them get magnified out of all proportion leading us to believe we may as well just give up, at least for now and pick up again next Monday. And next Monday never comes…
The more I think about my own behaviours the more I begin to realise that I do this too. It might not have the Monday idea but perhaps I say Tomorrow instead. That pile of paperwork I don’t feel like dealing with, the awkward phone calls I need to make, the heap of laundry that needs ironing and putting away, the kitchen bin that needs emptying. The putting off until Monday is only an extended version of the same type of thinking and behaviour. Are you now beginning to identify your own “next Monday” gremlins?
And I’d bet that like me you know when you clear that pile of paperwork, when you make those calls and put your house in order that you feel better. I know that when I do, I am more relaxed, more motivated to do the other things that really do matter to me and I am more capable of being the real, authentic me with the people I love and and care for. My attention is not elsewhere with the things I am promising myself I will do next Monday. I know from somewhere deep inside me that pushing through the discomfort that comes with any task or change is liberating and brings with it a deep sense of satisfaction and well-being.
So what happens when we commit to a change in our lives, like reducing our weight or giving up smoking, and we hit a bump in the road and get diverted from our goal? That moment that a piece of food we are not meant to have gets eaten or that crafty cigarette gets smoked over a conversation with friends, we tell ourselves we have failed utterly, we tell ourselves we are useless and simply not worth it, that our goal was stupid in the first place and why are we bothering? Because we are right back at the very beginning and we have totally messed up!
In that very moment where these hundreds of destructive thoughts run through our heads we are just five or six years old and unable to tie our shoelaces even though we have been shown many, many times how to make bunny ears. So we throw the shoes across the room and say we can’t do it! And maybe mum or dad calls us over and does it for us. Someone else takes charge of the change we are trying to make and tells us it’s OK, we can try again later.
Of course, as a parent there are times to do this but if you do it all the time the lesson about pushing through the discomfort right here and now to learn something new perhaps never gets the importance it should. I’ve often read that if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you and there is a lot of truth in that simple statement.
But as an adult it is rare that someone else is going to take charge and do “it” for us whatever “it” is. More likely we will find that others are happy to sabotage our goals alongside us and tell us it doesn’t matter. Because maybe if we change, they believe, in most cases subconsciously but occasionally in full awareness, that we won’t be the person they want or believe us to be and it is easier to subvert our goals and not let us change and risk losing the person that they know.
All this leads me to ask another question about how we live. Particularly in our affluent western society we seem to have become averse to any form of discomfort. Whereas our grandparents and great-grandparents had an attitude after two world wars of “just getting on with it” we are used in our lives in the early 21st Century of having most of what we need for physical comfort and that sometimes replaces what we need for emotional comfort. We mask emotional discomfort with eating, smoking and other behaviours that actually leave us numb so we do not feel discomfort but also do not permit us to experience real joy and happiness either.
So what do I tell my clients who fall off the wagon and who are tempted to give up until next Monday or even all together? I ask them to remind themselves why they started, to look at what they have already changed and achieved. I suggest that in that moment to do something that takes them a small step forward towards their goal – even if that is just having a drink of water rather than eating more of what they have already had. It’s hard, I’m not pretending it isn’t.
Learning that it’s OK to be uncomfortable with what you have to do to achieve what you really want and that in the process it really is OK to mess up and learn how to put it right is a powerful lesson. So think of your own experiences as you read this. We are often prouder of what we achieve in adversity and through great effort than what happens to come easily to us. Pushing through difficulties and deciding not to leave things until next Monday when you believe you have failed and messed up is amazingly rewarding. You rarely regret trying something, regret is usually about not doing something.
I also ask them to consider this – if you drop your mobile (cell) phone on the floor, do you then jump up and down on it to finish the job off properly? No, you pick it up, brush off the dust and pop it in your pocket. When you begin to treat yourself in the same way, you won’t have to worry about next Monday.