How to make life changes that really last
Imagine how success will feel
It is that time of year when many of us are thinking of making a major change or changes. Reflecting on our past year and looking forward, we are motivated to change and declare that things are going to be different.
If you are like most of us, the changes often start and then quickly fade and leave us disappointed. Real change requires that we bring our full selves into the process. At a minimum, our full self includes our cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects of our experience. These are the fundamental ways humans experience life and leaving even just one aspect out of the equation sets us up for failure.
In my coaching practice, I often find that the cognitive aspect of a resolutions is the easiest. Clients are motivated and declare that they want to “start an exercise program”, “change my sleeping patterns”, “do more with my spouse (or kids)”, etc. We often have an idea of what it is we want. The hard part of saying what we want is often that saying it out loud may have others hear us and now the pressure is really on! This said, the cognitive aspect is somewhat handled when we can declare a goal. Our thoughts are established when we verbalize the goal.
What is often left out, and then often results in not attaining our goal, are our emotional and physical relationships with the goals. To make a significant change, we need to imagine how it will feel when we are successful and recognize how it feels when we are going off track. Feeling includes both our emotions and our physical sensations.
Planning for Success
After establishing the idea or concept of your goal, a next useful step is to imagine success and how that will feel. To do this effectively you really need to calm and quiet yourself and feel the sensations and emotions associated with being successful. I suggest that you find a quiet place where you can be by yourself. Sit and breathe for 5 to 10 minutes. Sit upright and centered and bring your attention to your breath. With this centered and relaxed posture, now visualize yourself after attaining your goal or somewhere on the path of success. Ask yourself the following questions: What sensations will I feel when I am successful? What emotions will I experience when I am successful?
When answering these questions, it is important to answer with details and specificity. Answering that you will feel “good” is not helpful. “Good” is another cognitive answer and a judgement. Emotions include: Glad (including Happy and Pleased), Content, Sad, Mad, Afraid, and Ashamed, to name a few. Strong emotions have a physical signature and associated sensations. Sensations include: hot/cold, smooth/rough, light/heavy, tension, etc. The descriptions go on and on. When you have answered these questions, take a few minutes to write down the emotions and sensations associated with success. It can be helpful to review your notes on occasion.
Adjusting Course – Real Time
Often what takes us off course and towards old habits is unexperienced emotions and sensations. Because the underlying emotions and sensations are so familiar, it is often said that they are the “water we swim in” and it is hard to see that they are driving us. Each time you find yourself going towards an old habit (and away from your goal), that is the precise time to stop and actually experience your emotions and sensations. This may take a very intentional pause to feel what is driving you at that moment.
One way to notice the old and familiar feelings is to compare how you are feeling just as you are starting down the old and well-worn path, and compare those feelings to what you identified as the feelings of success. Each time you are able to differentiate and channel your old feelings away from old habits, you are creating new habits. Additionally, it is important to congratulate yourself each time you are successful in moving towards your goal. In my personal experience and when people I coach, it has been easy to see that we humans have a “negativity bias”. Essentially, we are more likely to notice when we are off track than we are to notice when we are on-track. And when we go off track we tend to scold ourselves creating more shame than is helpful.
Here’s to being resolute and feeling our feelings in 2016. Happy New Year!