Even When It Is Hard Commit To Yourself First

We cannot escape entering into our goals without our social structure we find ourselves in. So even when the office mates bring cookies or your partner wants pizza every night or your kids won’t eat healthy options right now … commit to you first. Make sure to take the small steps to reach your goals right now. Lives are built on the small steps done every day with consistency.

#healthfromtheinsideout #mindovermatter #fitnesspsychologist

Are You Ready To Commit?

What does it mean to commit? So many of think about commitment in terms of relationship, but do you ever consider what it means to commit in your everyday life and toward your everyday goals? Today examine your commitments to see if you have taken the steps to actually make them happen and see how this shapes and changes your view point of what commitment means in creating the best life ever. Read more to get ideas on changing your perspective on what it means to commit to yourself and create the life you want.

Many of us think of commitment as a long term concept and maybe even as being “stuck” in our dull routines. 

The dictionary defines commitment as:

“the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc, a pledge or undertaking, and an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action”. 

So many people only pay attention to the last one. The restriction part. When we focus on the first two it actually shows us a way to find ourselves at a deeper level. It gives us direction on what to say no to and what to say yes to. It shows us what we care about and how we want to live our lives. Below outlines a few ways to work with commitment in your own life so you are not feeling burdened or stuck in the same old routines. Becker (1960) states:

“The concept of commitment is widely used but has received little formal analysis. It contains an implicit explanation of one mechanism producing consistent human behavior. Commitments come into being when a person, by making a side bet, links extraneous interests with a consistent line of activity. Side bets are often a consequence of the person’s participation in social organizations. To understand commitments fully, an analysis of the system of value within which side bets are made is necessary”. 

Howard Becker

He goes onto define and outline how people work with and need commitment to engage in a variety of activities and to help define the limits of participation in said activities. In addition, he discusses how making your goal social and examining the culture it is made within is crucial to helping make sure you remain committed. So if we think about commitment being an activity we engage in (commitment to do something) or a state of being we are in (being committed) we can use these concepts to help us define and reach our own goals. 

Think about what you would like to have, accomplish, be known for. If you can define your goals then you will know what you need to commit to. These could be activities, people, occupational trainings, etc. They could also be things you need to let go of under the same headings. You might need to let go of not doing something to reach your overall goal. 

These are your side bets. The items you need to consider participating (or not) in are the things that help build your goal. Often people do not do a good job of figuring out the side bets to accomplishing hopes, dreams, and overall goals. They often have a good idea of what they would like to do, have, become but fail to consider what steps to take and how to accomplish them. In effect, they commit to the goal, but not the side bets that will help make it possible. As a result the desire for and commitment to the idea of the goal is alive, but often feels out of reach or unattainable. In order to be successful then, one must commit to the side bets. This is the art of being dedicated to the cause, activity, goal within the social culture. This is their pledge to themselves. This is the piece that actually does the work and gets the goal finished. This is also the part that people tend to focus on negatively because it does limit choices and takes away choice for any and all behaviors and activities. 

When you begin to think about commitment being something much more than just one decision and you are stuck with it forever. You begin to see how much more flexibility is in making a commitment. Within the decision to accomplish something, have something, or be something you actually have a lot of flexibility in your choices to make goals happen. You actually have a number of ways you can go about making them happen, too. From this perspective you have a lot more control in your choices and behaviors. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Healthy Eating: 

Commitment is to a particular food/diet choice:

First, you have to determine what you want. Then why. This is a crucial step as it tells us what to really focus on for side bets. Remember those are all the little steps and items you commit to outside the bigger goal. If I want to change my eating to a Keto diet it will look different than a vegetarian diet. If I am choosing a vegetating diet due to ethical reasons it will look different than endurance training options. 

Once you have figured out your what and your why, you must take steps to make it come alive in your life. This is where vision boards happen, meal planning and preparation, learning to deal with eating out, other people’s opinions, and shifts in your regular behavior to take on the small everyday steps to change how you have been eating in the past. This is also where people begin to struggle to remain committed to their personal goals because it gets boring and routine. It becomes very mundane. However, if you can make it through the small decisions and routine commitment choices you will reach your goal

Let’s look at something more abstract – Relationships: 

Commitment is to a particular person, lifestyle choice, social construct. 

For many people they blindly follow their personal cultural norms around relationship commitments. Often these are view points and behaviors we saw our parents and other adults in our lives acting out and we just absorbed them as truth about the way relationships are. BUT … there are many more options and ideas about what it means to be in a long term committed relationship than the options presented to us in childhood. The steps remain the same, but the choice points and side bets look different because of our culture and societal norms of the communities we live within as adults working to form relationships. 

Many people like to blame one gender or the other for the difficulties of remaining in long term intimate relationships, instead of doing the work to determine what it is they really want and figure out ways to get it in healthy co-created side bets and awareness of team building a shared life. Often partners do things “because that’s the way it goes” rather than examine what they would like and commit to creating a life from future visioning rather than past experiences. When it gets mundane and difficult people retreat to their corner licking wounds of vulnerability instead of coming together and discussing what is hurtful, difficult, or unappealing about personal culture expression. 

For example, if one partner believes that men should not show their feelings and have never been taught to speak about or how to show feeling in authentic connection, it will be difficult to maintain a partnership where one person is focused on reciprocated emotional sharing. In this case, it is best to communicate about wants and needs effectively – which is very very difficult when we are talking about blind spots in our culture, especially when they trigger vulnerability. 

To remain committed in a long term relationship we much consistently grow “together” and expand our personal cultures, sometimes abandoning pieces and parts of old cultural norms, to co-create a new shared culture together. We must work together to focus on common goals and negotiate comprise well. Take for example one partner who wants to build a large savings account but the other partner is a spender and sees no point in saving money now. They will continue to have a difficult time reaching the safety needs of the 1st partner (to have savings) if they cannot share ideas, vulnerabilities, reasons, and commitment to the goal. In the conversation there is room for negation around how much and when to spend freely so partner 2 doesn’t feel controlled and loss of enjoyment etc.  

It takes commitment to the larger vision of what it means to be in relationship and then commitment to work together to accomplish those goals to make a relationship work over the long haul. This is what makes remaining in long term committed relationships difficult. The longer you are together the more shared culture you create and the more you examine “the way it is” mentalities you were handed. If you have not committed to grow together the prediction of your relationship is that it will end.

In order to make a long term commitment to yourself or others you must have a clear view of what you want and why it matters. This helps you chose the decision points you must address and gives you clarity to chose wisely to reach your goal. It helps to walk through the steps of determining what you goal(s) are, how you would like your life to look/be, and they type of person you want to be known as. These defining criteria in your life help you determine next steps in what to focus your action on and what to let go of. 

Look at it this way – you are already committed. You may be committed to a lifestyle and value system you love so no need to change. That is great. However, if you are looking around your life and seeing things you want to change, you must determine what you have been committed to: unhealthy eating, too much TV, relationships that are not what you want, people who do not lift you up, old value systems you follow blindly instead of reviewing to determine if it fits you, unexamined vulnerabilities and personhood core wounding that shapes what you believe about yourself, your options in this life, and the world at large to begin the process of committing to yourself and the life you want to lead. Start today.  

Becker, H. S. (1960). Notes on the concept of commitment. The American Journal of Sociology, 66(1). 32-40.

Which Stage of Change Are You In?

Can you identify which stage of change you are in? Can you hold space for yourself with grace and compassion as you work to change your behavior, thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes? Can you be kind to others as they work the change process in their own lives?

Pre-contemplation – I am not thinking about changing at all, I see no problems, and I do not need to change anything right now.

Contemplation – something needs to shift, I might not know exactly what or how to make it happen but I know I need to do something. 

Preparation – I know what needs to change and I know what I need to do to get things started. I am seeking support and the items I need to be successful in my new change (i.e. getting the gym membership and new shoes, buying the right foods for my meal plan, finding a 12-step sponsor)

Action – I’m working on taking the steps that need to change. I am in the grind of changing my life for the better. I am focused on the daily steps to make my goal come true. 

Maintenance  – I’m doing it! I have changed my behavior, perspective, and my life. Now it is about sticking to my goals and keeping my eye on the prize for the long term. 

Sometimes relapse back to our old behaviors and attitudes happens. Work to get back on track as quickly as possible. It is not in never having a relapse but in how quickly we return to our more healthy focus that we want to measure our success. How quick do we recognize, stop the old behavior or thoughts, and return to the path of our goal? That’s the true measure of success for us. 

Overall, remember that change is hard. It can be challenging and moment to moment changes on the path. Your goal is to keep your eye on the prize!

Need more? Read Monday’s article on 3 steps to making change happen in your life here.

Photo credit: Social Work Tech

Working with Ambivalence … the parts of you that want to change & the parts that don’t.

Ever wonder why it is so hard to make big changes … or even small ones for that matter? It is often because we have what is known as ambivalence. This concept that part of us wants to change and part of us does not. We have a small war going on inside ourselves between the factions of staying the same and playing it safe and the part of us that wants something new and different … aka not as safe. Below are 3 ways to work with your own ambivalence and get those changes to take hold for good.

As you consider what you would like to change in your life, pay attention to what you do not like, what you want to be different, allow yourself time to reflect and feel into the changes, then take informed and inspired action. Read on to work on finding the next right step for you.

Stage 1:

When we consider making changes it is important to think about what we do not like, however not dwell here. This stage is just about getting clear about what we do want. This stages sets the scene for us to find what we do want by examining what we do not want. When we are in this stage we often do not feel comfortable, we may feel like we are the victim, that we are on the wrong path, or just bored and tired of the same ol’ same old thing. This stage is an opportunity to decide. It is the point that we begin to see what is not working. 

It is here that we might find it is time to stop drinking/using substances or other unhealthy coping skill because we feel so awful after a night or two of our use. It is here that we might feel uncomfortable thinking, talking, acting like our “old” self because we have new knowledge, insight, or awareness. It is here that we realize that working out was giving us more than just weight loss because we missed the emotional high by missing our movement practice this morning. 

This video explains how to work with ambivalence using the Trans-theoretical Model of Change and stages of change.

Action point for this stage – Get clear on what you do not like. Reflect on why you do not like it – not to judge and keep yourself down, but to objectively determine what is not working for you. You might see that your behavior is not the kind of person you want to be any more. I see this a lot with people who used to use racist or sexist jokes without realizing the impact. Now they know the impact and do not want to be that kind of person any more, but are working to figure out how to engage people with different humor. From this point of knowing what we do not want we can begin to decide what we do want. 

Stage 2:

Now that you have a clear picture about what you do not want any longer, it is time to vision what you do want. This is a very important stage. It is here that you actually make things happen. So many people want to brush past this stage in effort of action, because action feels better, yet action too quickly can create more work in the end. In this stage spend some time developing what you do want. 

As you get clear on what you do not want – usually does not take us too long to do – we want to get very clear on what we do want. Why do we want to quit using substances? What is the benefit of a new eating plan? Why behave differently? As you vision your new life options, it is important to feel how you will feel when you get the new life you want. In this stage, do not worry about how you will get it. Just feel how good it will feel when you are successful. Drink in the sweet feelings of your goals, successes, and dreams. 

Many people feel this is so whoo – whoo, but here is what is behind it. Science. We are chemical (hormones / neurotransmitters), electrical (heart rate, facia, brain, neuron communications) , vibrational beings (atoms and molecular structure). Every thought, emotion, and action we have creates a change in those 3 things. As those changes take place – yes through your thinking and feeling and eventually doing – you are changing the way your cells communicate with each other. Our cells use proteins to adapt to the environment around us and are always changing. As these proteins shift and change we have a different experience. Experiences change our brain structures and impact other physical structures like organs, tissues, and internal communication patterns. These changes create our internal environment. This can be helpful and supportive or hostile and forbidding. 

For example as you consider a stressful event your inflammation rate rises, your breathing may shift into more upper lobe exposure, less deep breathing, and your heart rate will then quicken. This change in what is known as your heart rate variability (HRV) is tied to your nervous system. 

As your HRV quickens, your sympathetic nervous system revs up, getting ready for a fight, to flee, or go into hypo arousal and keep you alive. All this, just while you think about that fight with your partner, that near miss car accident, the trauma you lived through as a kid, or your big work project. These thoughts are impacting how your body responds. This is not just about the way you think. It is also about the way you feel, as your emotions and actions also create changes in the physical body. It does not matter where you enter the square, everything is always impacting everything. We are holistic systems, not linear cause and effect systems. 

Overlapping Psychological and Locomotor Development
This is a model of the holistic nature of our experiences I created for a presentation I gave on the overlapping nature of our psychological and physical systems.

Whether is psychological or physical they impact each other. It does not matter where we start the process – in our minds or in our bodies – we cannot pull apart the intersecting experience. The heart rate variability is the link between the mental and physical world. we can control it to change our perception of our experiences. (Reuille-Dupont, 2018)

Now that you have a better understanding of why thinking and feeling matter to the physical structure of you, it is time to make action happen. 

Action Step for This Stage: Create a vision board, write a story about the new you/life/dream as though it has already happened, and mediate, mediate, mediate. Mediation shifts our brain waves and allows us to be more receptive to solutions and next steps we need to take. We have to let go of our own thinking and doing around the change before we can get really clear about what we need to do next. Mediation clears that space for us in as little as 5, 10, 15 minutes a day. Do not skip this activity. Read more on the importance of reflective time and accomplishing goals.

Stage 3:

Hopefully, you have spent some time sitting with what you do not like, then working on what you do want. Now it is time to act. It is important to take INFORMED action. This is something I see go sideways in lots of folks, myself included – they get antsy for action and impulsively move instead of be deliberate about the next steps. This means they often miss the most simple option and skip around … leading to longer accomplishment timing. 

Ambivalence in change is uncomfortable. It is hard to sit with. There is a part of you so sure of the changes you want to make, yet there is also a part of you so scared about the changes you are about to make. There is part of you that can see clearly how much better the new way will be, and there is a part of you sad to let the old way go. As we honor both of those spaces we want to make sure we allow both to be true. This helps settle our discomfort. Once we can process our struggle we are often ready for action.

For example, the change may be quit using substances, yet your culture is full of people using your substance of choice. It may not be easy to leave them all behind today or even completely quit your substance today (sometimes this is even dangerous), but it might be doable to find a 12-step group, reach out to a sober friend, see your therapist or get one, get to the hospital, or buy a book/find an online community to help you stick to your goal of being sober (or more sober) today. We are just looking for the next step right now. Once that one is taken, we can take the next one, and the next, and next until you have multiple days, months, years sober from that substance. 

Stage 3 Action Step: Since you have already set up so much and gotten so ready by creating a vision for your future self, feeling your success and accomplishment as though it has already happened, and mediated to get clear about what you next step needs to be … just take that step. Just the next one to be most effective. It does not have be big, does not have to accomplish the end goal completely yet, you are in process, and it does not have to be overwhelming. It just has to be the next right step for this moment. The one we are in, not the one you wish you were in, want to be in, or would rather be in. Just the one you are really in. Informed action makes each moment easier and they build upon each other, little by little, like building blocks building the tower … one at a time, step by step. 

Focus on What Works

Today focus on what you want and ignore all those things you do not want.

Do not waste your energy focused on what is not working.

Note the problem, create a solution, and move in the direction you want to go. Do not look back. What is done, is done. Just move forward.

Yesterday is done … Keep your sights on today.

So many get hung up on what happened yesterday, last month, last year, 10,20,50 years ago. They spend their energy focused on what went wrong. Instead focus on what is going right. Focus on on what you want. Spend your time creating a life you love, want, and desire instead of focusing on what is not working in your life, with people around you, or in the world. Spend your energy wisely.

Crush Your Goals!

How are you doing with your vision board and your goal outlines? Did you do it on Monday? If not, why not? What got in your way? How could you work around those obstacles? Are you feeling like you need more help? Then reach out. Make sure you are not swirling in the same stew over an over. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to change and finding yourself stuck at the same place over and over because you are not sure how to move forward, do not have clarity about what you really want, or do not have the support you need to make your dreams come true.

Make sure to ask for help when you need it.

Accomplish Your Goals … Start a Morning Routine

Many of us want our lives to be different and we aren’t sure how to start. We want to shift our perspective, focus, and behavior but get locked into the same ole same old routine. Try finding a morning routine that helps you schedule 10-30 minutes in your morning to reflect on your goals, vision board, and upcoming day. During this time, view your vision board, allow yourself to feel what successful accomplishment of your goals would feel like, and review your day’s plan to reach those goals.