Recognize the powerful psychological influences keeping you where you are, and walk beyond them.
A lot of women in the Paleo for Women community are trying to lose weight. But they’re not the only women I am speaking to with this post. Some of us want to become better athletes. Some want to ask for a promotion, or to change our fashion sense. Others want to quit smoking or drinking, to start a new daily practice, to meditate, or to wake up earlier in the morning. To be more kind, to be more loving, or to be more bold. Anything. Any kind of identity or happiness related desire. All of these things are ways in which are trying to improve or to grow ourselves one way or another. More often than not, we find that the simple difficulty of the task itself is not the only thing keeping us back.
There are three main things preventing us moving forward: our environments, personal inertia, and fear.
The places, but more importantly the people, with whom we surround ourselves often concretely prevent us from moving forward. Our physical environments keep us back because we are creatures of habit, and in those environments we have certain habits, so we feel strong instincts to act in harmony with our habitual patterns when in those places. A concrete example might be when I lived in Italy. My nonna had a big garden. I developed the habit of sneaking out there and eating tomatoes off of the vine when I visited. That meant that every time I went to her house, I felt a strong need to continue that behavior. If I stopped going to nonna’s house, those tomatoes would have dropped off of my menu entirely. The same might go for a workplace, which is filled with doughnuts and bagels and coffee, and in which you have a habit of overeating. When you arrive in that space, your mind goes to that place, and if you’re not consciously aware of and resisting that impulse, then your environment is going to continue to have a leg up on you.
Our social environments are, unfortunately, even more powerful agents of resistance to change. There are a lot of disillusioning and depressing topics covered in this post, but in my opinion this is the saddest of all.
As human beings, we have friends, and they have certain images, definitions, and roles in our minds.
We like them that way, so we do our best to keep them that way. We also don’t like when they show us up in good behavior, so we often discourage it. Can you believe we do this to the people we love? If unaware of it, we might actively be practicing it every day.
For example: you go out to eat with friends. One of them notices that you ordered a salad. You used to be the girl who ordered onion rings. She also knows that you are trying to lose weight. However, she wants you to continue to be the “carefree,” overweight woman who always orders onion rings. That keeps you in the same role for her as you have always been. It keeps you “who you are” to her. She’ll encourage you to order the onion rings. “It won’t make a difference!” she’ll say. “Be free, don’t let the man get you down, diets are for sissies.” She wants you to stay the same, but she also doesn’t want you to make her feel bad. As the onion ring woman, you were on level with her poor food choices. Now you’re trying to best her. You’re moving up. You’re getting healthy, and she feels–even if she doesn’t know it–guilty as all hell.
The thing is, this kind of reinforcing behavior in this woman’s mind comes from a place of love, care, and concern. By encouraging you to “indulge,” she believes that she is helping you. She is freeing you. She is encouraging you to love yourself for who you are, as you are, and to feel sexy and unburdened by the weight of life changes and discipline. But that’s not the whole story, and it’s important for all of us to recognize it. Recognizing this fact helps us perceive the intentions of our friends and loved ones, and it also helps us prevent ourselves from doing it to them in turn. No matter how good of people we are– and goodness, do I ever try– we all have the same tendencies, the same instinct to keep our friends in given roles. Don’t let it happen. We’re better than that.
The second way in which we are held back is bypersonal inertia, where inertia is a force that keeps us moving in the same direction. There is a simple fact: change is hard. But I believe that we overestimate often how hard the changes might be. For that reason, we put off making them happen.
We dwell on difficulties we perceive in change, we see how much they demand of us, and even if we end up managing to get started on the change, we derail ourselves by perceiving great effort down the road.
BUT: When we are doing this, we are doing it entirely in our brains. We are worrying about the future. The thing is, when the moment comes for change to happen, such as choosing a different meal at a restaurant, waking up early, or dropping a habit (though smoking may be a bit of a different case), in that precise moment, the change can in fact be so easy. We get so caught up in what everything means and the fears we have of what kind of efforts and changes it might take from us in the future, but there’s a significant problem in that reasoning. Which is that: the problem is overestimated. We aren’t in the future yet. We don’t know what the difficulty is. And all of it–all of the difficulty–it’s all sitting somewhere in our brains. We just have to become familiar with it, and learn the space of what is truly difficult rather than blown up or made up right out of our brains, and practice daily learning to dismiss it. Not easy. But not so difficult in the end, no.
The final way in which we are held back isfear of success.
Just like our friends are used to us looking, being and acting a certain way, so are we.
We are used to being overweight, used to being pessimistic, used to being unhappy. This is who we are, and deep in our brains we are tied to these parts of our identities just as strongly as we are tied to the more positive ones. So we try to keep ourselves that way.
When we look in the mirror, and we notice that we have lost weight, we, so often, holy crap, so. often., immediately run to the fridge. It’s not that we aren’t happy that we’ve made progress. It’s that we look different, and that’s not who we are. Stefani is a size nine. She has always been that way. She’s inching down in waist size, and that’s just weird! Hurry up, eat some hot dogs, woman.
That’s not what we think is going on in our brains, but so, very unfortunately, it very often is.
Worse, however, is that sometimes when we see that positive change, or even think about it, we do not just back pedal because of the rigid way in which we define ourselves in our heads, but also because we don’t think we deserve it.
For whatever reason, we’ve got something in our brain telling us we can’t do it. We aren’t good enough. We aren’t worthy. ‘I am not lovable, and I will never be lovable. People don’t love me, and that’s that.’ ‘I binged last week. I don’t deserve to be thin.” “I can’t get my shit together. Maybe that means I’m not supposed to. I never can. I never will. I am going to be this way forever.”
Not okay!! You do deserve it. Everyone deserves it. Self-love is basic and human and maybe the most important thing of all. It doesn’t come on an earn-it basis. It comes on a basic-human-right and requirement-for-being-a-loving-presence-in-the-world basis. But these are hard psychological blocks to move beyond. The best way to do it is to find out if and how they are present, and to make friends with them. To talk to them. To talk about them. To accept what role they have played in your life. And then to dare to let them slide off of you.
Because the last thing left obscuring us from realizing our true potential is our fear of it.
We are afraid of being excellent, because in our heads, it’s difficult. It’s scary. It requires confidence. It makes us bright. It makes s noticeable. Happiness and achievement of any sort in our minds puts us publicly out there. People will see us. And that’s frightening on millions of levels.
Take it from a woman who acquired two shrinks when her readership passed 50,000.
But any change towards positivity changes us, and elevates us in some regard or another, and for that reason, we get terrified.
The higher we are, the farther we have to fall.
And the more public we might perceive it to be, because we are projecting a new air of living positively, of living unapologetically, of living happily and healthfully. We are making changes and the people in our lives will see it, and all of us are going to have to deal with it.
Instead of being afraid–instead of of letting our fear of being a role model or a happiness or a new being stop us from living–let us dare to deal with it.
Life at its best is lived radiantly. Life is best lived with light and with grace and with positivity and love. Do it. Dare to do it. Do it in baby steps if you have to. But do it. Put on the hat of unapologetic wellness from time to time. Put on the hat of excellence. Take it off gently if it’s getting to be too heavy. Then put it on again.
Be you, but be you excellently.
Do not be afraid to do it. You are beautiful, you are yourself, you have nothing to fear in yourself and others. No one is going to laugh at you if you fall. And if they do– fuck ’em! It’s not worth your attention. Your attention is better left for positivity in your life and in others. Your growth is powerful for your soul. It’s powerful for your friends. It’s powerful for the universe.
Making positive changes empowers us to be more loving and to be more free. It does the same for others. It really does.
Dare to make it happen, for everyone’s sake.
There’s nothing to fear. Only our old hurts and new worries are holding you back.
Chip away at them, and step into the light. Keep stepping further throughout your life. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do so– don’t make this a game of self-love and self-deprication. Only grow in love, and do it continuously.
Think about your fears and those of the people around you, and how they might be holding you back.
Think about about what it means to climb mountains, and get to the top, and look around. It might seem like you have a long way to fall, and everyone for miles and miles will be able to see it, but there’s plenty around you holding you up, including yourself, and there’s nothing but applause all the way around for your love and positivity and efforts.
And read this Marianne Williamson quote– daily:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world….And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”