“Everyday I say I am going to start and then by the end of the day I’ve quit.”
“I tell myself I’ll do something and then I don’t and I don’t know why.”
We’ve all been here. It's one of the biggest problems people bring to coaching. Either they want to stop doing something or start doing something, but they feel completely powerless to change.
I used to be the world’s biggest procrastinator. I just couldn't seem to follow through on diet and exercise. I was on the daily diet-binge cycle with Netflix binges interspersed.
The worst part about it was that the things that I wanted to do were important to me and my health, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself to follow through. I would be constantly waiting for the next wave of motivation asking myself “Why can’t I get this done?”
The obvious answers would be there. “I’m just not a motivated person.” “I’m lazy.” “There is something wrong with me.”
And like so many coaching clients, I’d give up.
But the truth is all of this is just a stream of thoughts in our heads. In fact you can argue that is all that is ever actually happening to us is a stream of thoughts. And as I learned as a qualitative researcher each of these thoughts cause feelings that drive actions.
This is the Think-Feel-Act cycle. It’s lighting fast and it controls absolutely everything that we do… or don’t do.
So, while we start off with a thought that’s very motivating, when faced with creating new habits we allow other more habitual thoughts to take over on the way.
“This is too hard.”
“I need a break, a snack, a treat.”
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
Following the Think Feel Act cycle we can see each of these thoughts lead us away from our initial motivating thoughts to thoughts that make us feel completely discouraged, which lead us to take the action of giving up.
But the great news - and the secret to the universe - is we are always just one thought away from a different feeling and action.
Find the thought and change it and you can create a better feeling and a better action.
It really is that simple. But it takes awareness and practice to wise up to what’s going on our minds when we see are used to accepting our thoughts and feelings uncritically and we just let them run without questioning them. Especially when the environment is saturated with distractions like food, drink and Instagram offering us alternatives to looking at what is going on within ourselves.
The first step of breaking the cycle is to look back at an instance like a binge eat and refuse to beat yourself up but instead look critically at the thoughts that were leading up to that moment. Be willing to investigate those thoughts and feelings by writing them down. Start with the thought then write down the feeling and the actions that result.
Once we learn to do the thought work and process the emotions that drive our actions we can use our minds to get what we want and to motivate ourselves instead of being at the mercy of thoughts without questioning them. We literally don’t have to change anything but our thoughts. Choosing more motivating and compassionate thoughts about ourselves is all we need to do to feel better and to motivate ourselves.
The good news is by doing this work we can fundamentally change our habits so that we don’t have to diet or binge ever again.
Hi, I'm Lydia Pattison.