Over the years I have sat down in the mornings at my computer and as a rush of chaotic, pressured energy washed over me, I thought to myself, “Gee, maybe I shouldn’t have had those last sips of coffee.” After my doctor warned me of the potential effect of caffeine on my bones and its current role in my whacky hormones, I thought, “I am so addicted, I really should just quit.” But I love my coffee, and I looked forward to the ritual of making it or buying it in those amazing sippie to-go cups each day. It seemed these mild discomforts and cautionary tales were not worth giving it up for. Switching partially to decaf was a start, but it wasn’t until the extreme discomfort of my stomach becoming hyper-acidic that I finally, sadly and reluctantly gave up the bean.
These days, I miss it. When I smell my partner’s cup in the morning, my heart sinks. But after six weeks, I am enjoying waking up without needing a substance to bring me alive. I am enjoying the evenness I feel as I sit to write. I enjoy a happy tummy, a clearer complexion, and feeling free, for the moment, from addiction.
I am sure you have at some point, if not this year then at the beginning of some New Year, set out to change your dietary habits, exercise regime and maybe even control your temper a little better or pay more attention to your kids. You’ve aimed at a fresh start, and set out to do what’s better for you and those around you. And if you’re lucky, these changes lasted until, say, mid February, before you slipped back into all your default behaviors and patterns.
Ah, real change . . . what is it that makes it so elusive? Are we weak willed? Do we really lack discipline? For one, real change is often cyclical, so set backs are just a part of the overall process of transformation. But we forget that, and feel discouraged. We also forget how difficult change can be, because these days, some changes are so easy. If you want to change the lines on your face, for a fee and mild discomfort, you can get a shot. If you want to reduce your appetite, you can staple your stomach. If you want to escape negativity, you can think positive thoughts. So many simple alternatives to the very challenging notion of REAL behavioral change.
The upset, sacrifice and vulnerability that often come with real change can scare us into a state of being in which the desire to change is not enough to motivate us to do it. Knowing what’s healthy or good for us is not enough either. We need help from others and from motivating forces to propel us through the grief and disorientation that some changes require.
I invite you, in your resolution making this year, to include three little dark creatures that are disguised as enemies, but are invaluable in helping you really bite the bullet and move towards your potential. They are: High anxiety, Sheer misery, and the Threat of missing out on, losing, or the actual loss of, love. Although you may need all three to come knocking simultaneously at your door before you take up the journey of transformation, here are some examples of how they have helped others follow through on their resolutions for good.
High Anxiety: Anxiety is a great motivator. Anxious about how you will be perceived at your high school reunion? It could help you get to the gym. Anxious about your upcoming presentation at work? It can push you to be extra prepared. And then there’s Joanne.*
Joanne loved her work as an executive in the fashion industry and she was busier than busy. She occasionally would forget things, but mostly, her ability to accomplish many things and do them well was a marvel. Everyone told her that she had to slow down and take some time for herself. Every year, Joanne would swear she was going to – she planned to hire another assistant, make time for exercise, get a massage and call her friends. And every year she had to cancel her spa day and her gym locker reservation because too much was going on.
And then one day on her way back to the office from a meeting, she encountered the scariest thing she had ever been through. Something in her seized up. She didn’t know what was happening and she couldn’t breathe. In the ER, after diagnosing her with a panic attack, they also told her that her blood pressure was too high and she was at risk for heart disease. Joanne feared illness more than anything. The panic attack may have been brought on by the stress in her life, but it was the anxiety of potentially getting really sick that caused her to reach out and get the help she needed to once and for all change her frantic lifestyle.
Sheer Misery: As with the discomfort in my stomach and giving up coffee, dire physical and emotional pain can be an incredible proponent for real and lasting change. When Ed’s back went out for the fourth time in one year, he had had enough. He hated being incapacitated and unable to work or play with his kids, and with the physical pain, it all added up to sheer misery. Although it had been recommended to him for years, he finally signed up for a Pilates session (“that girlie exercise”) and he has strengthened his core and reduced his back pain and outages significantly.
Alice was finally so sick of years of dieting and hating herself, enduring hourly put-downs by her inner critic for what she ate and for being overweight, that she simply accepted it. She threw out her skinny clothes, and became comfortable with her extra 30 pounds. As she put it, “If I’m going to be fat, I’m going to be happy.” But that wasn’t enough. One miserable evening after bingeing on doughnuts, when she felt yet again like “a beached whale,” she wanted the cycle to end. In addict-speak, she experienced the hell of “hitting bottom.” As she lay there, distended and immobile, she thought, “I will never feel this way again.” And since that day, the memory of that pain haunts her. Although she enjoys herself thoroughly, she has not binged.
Threat of Loss: If you haven’t seen The Descendants, George Clooney’s character makes a great case for this one. As his wife lies there in a coma, he bargains with her that if she wakes up, he will finally be the husband she has been asking him to be all along. He vows to listen to her, have the important talks, be more present, etc. Our loved ones, officemates, and friends may let us know how we impact them, but rarely are we motivated into behavioral change until we are posed with the very real threat of losing something we hold dear.
And when Joanne, the fashion executive, was complaining one night about being single and lonely, her good friend told her, “You will never find someone unless you make room for him.” So after the changes she made after her panic attack, Joanne had more time to think, and was able to take that information under greater advisement.
And we’ve all been changed by actual loss.
Can you change before you get to that point? Before your job is on the line, your wife threatens divorce, or your health is on the brink? It is a question to bring with you into the New Year. In the meantime don’t be hard on yourself, because these feelings states -- high anxiety, sheer misery and potential loss -- will come around to push you into your truth when no one else can or will. And when they do, take heed. Don’t push them away and let them escalate into disaster. We may hate them, but they can be our friends, the motivating forces saying: “You are stronger than you think! Get on that treadmill! Write that book! Really BE with your loved ones, and live life to the fullest!”
Go for it. But you may need to be miserable first.
And remember, Love yourself no matter what.
* names and circumstances have been changed to protect privacy
Please, as always, feel free to contact me through my site at www.blairglaser.com/contact/ and let me know your thoughts!
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BLAIR GLASER, MA, LCAT, RDT has taught women around the country innovative skills and new ways of thinking to improve their experience in their bodies, at work and in relationship. She has run workshops at retreat centers around the country, including Omega in Rhinebeck, NY and at her studio in Woodstock, NY. She is a New York licensed creative arts therapist, teaches drama therapy at a graduate level at Pratt Institute, and has guest-lectured about drama therapy at New Rochelle College, The New School, and New York University. She has run drama therapy groups with several different populations, including a group for teenage girls that she was recruited to facilitate by actor-activist Jane Fonda . She is in private practice and also speaks at conferences and gatherings.
Blair also worked from 1998 to 2004 as part of the core staff of Eve Ensler's V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women and girls, corresponding with women all over the world about issues of empowerment. Blair's articles have appeared online in UK's feminist e-zine, FLOW, at Sexual Health.com, and in the Hudson Valley Arts/ Spirit / Culture publication; Chronogram. You can visit Blair's web site at www.blairglaser.com.
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