Let’s talk about sleep. According to the CDC one third of the US population struggles to get enough sleep. take medication to get and stay asleep. Our work, technology, and movement needs have changed throughout the years. As a result more of us have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good number of us turn to sleep aids – pharmaceuticals, alcohol, falling asleep with the TV on, doing more and more so we are “really tired”. However, these aids are often short sighted and do not help us access the deep sleep we really need. Read on to review key areas where you can shift your behavior and take control of your sleep cycle again.
Many people struggle with sleep because they negate its benefits. In our individualistic action oriented culture many people see the value of doing more over taking a break. Thus, they short their sleep in favor of getting one more item graded, one more report done, one more idea mapped out, one more treat made. In the long run this is a recipe for disaster. Your mind keeps racing with ideas as it gets trained to do more and those ideas sometimes become worries. Before we know it we’ve lost precious sleep time to thoughts, fears, and anxieties.
There are some key strategies you can do to end the cycle of not enough sleep, self medication with caffeine all day, and then being too wired to sleep well. Inevitability starting the cycle all over again.
Let’s start with the first and one of the most easy places to intervene: Time. Research shows that for the average adult 7-9 hours of shut-eye is best. That being said there are some exceptions – most of us are not those exceptions. Instead, most of us who get less than 7 hours or more than 9 have adapted to habits. Our bodies are amazing adaptions machines.
This does not mean it’s always adapting to optimal – it adapts to survival. As we shorten the time we sleep we impact the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal axis. The body’s stress system. This impacts cortisol levels and fluctuates things like weight gain, inflammation rates, joint problems, pain levels, disease states, immunity, ability to concentrate and be productive, our ability to connect and play well with others, and energy balance needs (creating more carbohydrate cravings) to name a few. Today commit to making changes to get at least 7 up to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Below we will discuss how to do that. As I know some of you are like “WHAAAAT!?!?! How the hell am I supposed to do that?!?!?!”
One of my favorite tools to get and stay asleep, I love this ladie’s voice! Works to get to sleep and when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to get back to sleep. Jen Piercy, Yoga Nidra for Sleep – Powerful Guided meditation to fall asleep fast –
Next let’s talk about diet. What you eat all day matters. When your nutrition is depleted by poor food choices your body can not make the neurotransmitters and hormones it needs to restore itself to optimal health at night. By eating for your bio-individuality you give your system what it needs. Then during the night your body helps itself recover and prepare for your day ahead. In turn this keeps you from reaching for “crutch” foods to maintain your energy balance – sugar, caffeine, alcohol, quick carbohydrate.
These “crutch” foods can be ones that deplete the system, increase stress and inflammation on the body systems, and actually do not provide you with maintained focus and clarity you are really looking for throughout the day. Instead picking dense nutritious foods provides you with the sustainable energy while also giving your body what it needs to prepare for a good night’s sleep. When you choose foods that give you sustainable energy you are creating a positive cycle that supports your system rather than tearing it down. If you need help knowing where to start. See a dietitian or nutritionist to help you find your bio-individually meal plan.
Light and Sound
Now let’s talk about light and sound. Our physical bodies were made to respond to fluctuations in light. As the sun rises so does our cortisol helping us wake up. As the moon rises so does our melatonin helping us prepare for sleep. This system is often disrupted by things like electricity, sounds, and screens. Many of us keep our home lights on full force during the evening to help us preform tasks of daily living in today’s society. As we use this technology we have to manage it well. Start lowering your lights, shut off bright ones, close curtains, lower music, TV, other sounds. This allows us to work with the natural systems rather than fight against them leading to that “2nd wind” many of us have experienced.
In addition, screens are tough on sleep. They emit a blue light that signals cortisol and “wake up” like morning light. Plus the pixels move even when they look steady to our eyes. This keeps our brains awake and paying attention. Start turning screens off about an hour before your bed time, keep them out of your bedroom, and use a blue light filter if you do need to look at them prior to bed. This time frame gives you space to build a solid bedtime routine, which prepares your body and your mind to rest.
Finally let’s talk about the body. Our bodies ere made to move. Allowing them this pleasure helps them metabolize stress chemicals, focus the brain, and just plain get tired. This prepares us for sleep. Most of us do well to do harder workouts at least 2 hours before bed time and a simple easy stretching routine 10-15 min right before bed. This helps slow the mind by lowering the breath rate, signaling the heart rate to slow, and the brain to signal time to relax to the rest of our systems. Things like a warm bath, shower, tea, cozy clothing, weighted blankets, relaxing smells, all help us get into the physical system and shift it toward sleep. Plan to spend the hour before bed winding down with these activities helping yourself crawl into bed ready to rest.
Developing a New Sleep Hygiene Routine
Routines take time to develop. Here are some ways you can build your sleep routine to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed and ready for your day – no matter what’s on your agenda or when the coffee’s coming.
- Complete all strenuous physical activity 2 hours before bed.
- Have a list where you can place all items you are thinking about right now. Shift your focus to getting ready for bed and being done with today. Anything on this list will be addressed tomorrow morning, so you can rest assured knowing you will take care of it. Place the list by your bed to capture any ideas, thoughts, worries that wake you up in the middle of the night, remind yourself you will deal with the list in the morning.
- Begin shutting down lights, closing curtains, decreasing sounds, and light 1 hour before bed
- Turn off screens. Shut off the TV in favor of paper reading items, turn off your facebook, instagram, and email. If you must look at screens, turn on your night filter to eliminate blue light.
- Spray your pillow, bed sheets, room etc with a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile.
- Brew yourself a sleepy time tea, settle in with blankets and soft clothing to enjoy it.
- Take a warm bath, shower, or wash your face, hands, feet with warm water to signal the brain to begin slowing down. It helps if you use essential oil to help your brain really relax.
- 15 min before bed time, do a simple stretching routine. It could be moon salutations from yoga, or easy movements that feel good to your body, stretching all the ones you used today. As you stretch focus on the physical sensations of letting go and resting. Use props, blankets, pillows, your bed, etc. to help your body release any tension and really let go without worry.
- Walk through the house, prepare to end the day – lock doors, straighten papers, shoes, etc so you can rest well. Nothing big here, just gentle reminders that you are done for today and ready to rest. Tomorrow you can finish the dishes or wipe the floor under the wet shoes. Crawl into bed, set your alarm, and turn off any soft lighting still on.
- If needed use a guided sleep meditation or soft music to help you adjust and drift off to sleep. These can be helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night, too.
If you do wake up – do not panic. Just note, I am awake right now. Write any racing thoughts, ideas, worries, on your list, remembering to remind yourself you will deal with this tomorrow and by sleeping now you are better prepared to solve those problems. Use scents, mediations, etc as needed. If you do have to get up – say to pee – keep lights low or off and move slowly. Do not even open your eyes if you do not need to. Again reminding yourself it is time to sleep now.
In the event you cannot fall back to sleep. Get up and move to another room – keep lights low/off and movements slow. Curl up and get cozy. If you have to read use paper materials and low lighting. Maybe fix a sleep tea to help your system calm. The more you worry about being awake the worse it gets as anxiety sets in and you struggle to rest. Need more ideas here’s another article with 10 ideas for getting and staying asleep.
Self Compassion with Sleep Changes
In the end … Remember it takes time to build a new routine. If you have created habits around not sleeping or getting up throughout the night it takes some time for the body to shift. About 21-30 days. By practicing your new routines without judgment toward yourself you are setting yourself up for success. Many times, just shifting how you view your routine can be helpful. Move away from negative talk and toward what is working. Start by:
- Shifting your sleep time by 15 min per week toward your ultimate goal.
- If the list above is overwhelming, take on one change a week
- If you wake up – DO NOT panic. Just go with the flow and remind yourself you are working in a positive direction. Be gentle with yourself and your environment.
- If you find too much light (if you can see your hand move in front of your eyes with them closed after lights out) or too much noise, help yourself out and get a sleep mask, ear plugs, and/or a white noise machine.
- Limit all distractions – pets in your bed, kids in your bed, partners. Sometimes a good pillow or separate blankets between ya’ll is enough.
CDC resources for sleep –https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/resources.html
To plan your workouts think about doing something focused 3-6 times a week and taking 1-3 days of what’s called active rest (clean house, walk the golf course, go for a hike, take the dog for a long walk, do squats throughout the day – link it to every time you go to the bathroom for example.
This movement is important for recovery and allows your body to do something active for fun, wellness, blood flow to the sore spots from your focused workout, etc. This keeps the body oriented toward energy flow and movement.
Making sure to get a weekend workout in is a great way to make sure your active rest days are not consecutive. Consecutive days off can make it harder to return to your focused workouts on Monday.
Make sure to warm up. Spend 5-10minutes doing easy movement, stretching, and allow the muscles you are going to work to “wake up”. Work to include all the big joints and major muscle groups. It’s a great time to get your music right, your shoes tightened or loosened, or make sure you hair is out of your way. By fixing these things now, you are more likely to stay focused on the work.
When you complete the round, give yourself a pat on the back, a fist pump, something that celebrates your accomplishment. This is a big deal for helping habits stick, and helps you be realistic about all the hard work you are doing.
10’s For Strength
Do 10 reps of each exercise below. Make sure you have good form before you make any movement harder. Form before function or you won’t have function (you’ll hurt yourself instead).
- Backward lunges
- Elbows Wide Push ups
- Side Lunges
- Elbow-In Low Row (to make weighted use dumbbell, bands, canned goods, full/semi full milk jug, your kid – be creative & make sure it feels good to lift, some items do not)
- Forward lunges. (if you have problems keeping your knee over your ankle here, do another set of backward lunges)
- Elbow-Out High Row (see above for weight)
- Narrow Squats (put a block, small ball, or towel between your inner thighs for this one to help focus on those muscle groups)
- Supine Overhead Lat Row (lay on your back on the floor or a bench, feet flat on the floor, knees bent, with 1 weighted item in hands. Move that item from chest level over your head and return pulling down toward the stomach area. Do not move lower than the floor/top of the head, and keep the arms straight throughout the movement. If low back lifts shorten the range of the movement. And make sure you do not drop the weight on yourself)
- Pile Squats
- Elbows in Push Ups
- Single Leg Squats – 10 to each side
- Shoulder Lateral Raises
- Cherry Pickers
- Bicep Curls
- Curtsy Squats
- Tricep Overhead Press
YOU DID IT!! Now that you have finished the “work” portion, it is time for flexibility training. Spend some time stretching all the muscles you worked – in this workout, it’s full body so give all your major muscles a good stretch. Then grab a good post workout snack. Together these get your muscles ready for tomorrow’s movement and make sure you are ready to meet your goals.
Words of Caution …
Please make sure to follow your body. Do not push through pain. Discomfort/Challenge are different than pain. We want to challenge ourselves we do not want to hurt ourselves. Find the level that is right for you and move at that level. Make sure to choose weight and stances that support your body style – if you have to use the wall to do your push ups do that, if you need a chair or a bench use those. Make sure you are doing what you need to do for your body type and current personal level of fitness.
As always have a fun living in your body today!
I'm currently living in an area impacted by a large wildfire. Although I used my personal impact for the topic, this was written for anyone who is living through stress and overwhelm regardless of the cause.
Every year fire season rolls around and we talk about it. We talk about how dry or not dry it is, how much snow we did or didn’t get. We talk about the trees, the heat, the lightening potentials. We try to predict where and when we’ll come around the corner and see the plume of smoke we know is not a cloud. We desperately hope it won’t be in our backyard.
And then it happens. Somewhere, somehow a fire starts, we come around the corner and we see it, we can smell it, we hear the people on the street, the radio, and at work or play talking about it.
We all stop and look, pointing while trying to determine how much space is between us and it, where’s it’s located, and is it affecting spaces I know. At first there is usually a lot of chatter, energy, maybe even excitement that parts of the forest may become more healthy, yet over time our endurance wanes and our hearts become heavier.
We run out of “fuel” to stay positive about the impacts of such a natural event. At these times it is important to take care of ourselves because the effects do not go away easy. Caring for our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health during forest fires (or any other disaster in our lives).
First, lets talk about physical health and mental health intersections. With an event like a fire we have a strong response in our bodies. We feel the primal nature of the event and register the lack of control. These add stress to the body and mind. Mind and body are not separate entities to be regulated to sections of your physical frame. In fact, if I want to know your serotonin levels (a marker for depression) I would take your blood or look at your gut health where the majority of it is made.
If I want to know how stressed you are, I’ll take a saliva sample to check your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that impacts inflammation. Inflammation impacts joint pain, brain efficiency, heart health, and obesity to name a few mental to physical health connections.
Your breathing rate is tied to your heart rate, and both are tied into your nervous system. When breathing or heart rate run too fast or too slow, your brain registers danger. When you feel like you can’t breathe it’s a big deal. Breathing is necessary for survival and your brain’s ultimate goal is to keep you alive. This lack of oxygen (or the perception of it) shifts the brain into a hyper-vigilant state because it needs to find the danger. This elevates your nervous system and impacts items like digestion, rest, inflammation rates, and positive social connections.
Sleep is a huge piece of physical and mental health. When we can’t sleep all sorts of things happen to the body and mind. The body goes through a number of important cycles during sleep. When we miss these cycles – guess what happens … the brain registers the lack of these important steps as a problem, it’s stressed because it’s running on lower than normal / needed systems. It’s like taking your car out but forgetting to top off the oil and then wondering why things don’t run smoothly.
Here’s a concrete example of how the body and mind interplay on our health during an event like forest fire:
On a concrete level we have to deal with lots of smoke. This smoke makes it hard to breathe – stress response in the body – and may have a direct or indirect response getting enough sleep. So much smoke, gotta close my windows, now I can’t sleep because it’s hot or I’m so worried or sad for those effected. I can’t sleep because my mind is playing images over and over, or I’ve been evacuated and now I can’t sleep with all these people around me in the center. Soon our ability to mange regular daily stressors wanes and we have a harder and harder time being present to our life routines and relationships. Bottom line, because our physical systems are impacted – our mental health will be too.
Here’s how to help make sure you are as physically strong as you can be during a stressful event. Get enough rest, good foods – these help make sure the body has what it needs to make the right neurotransmitters. Engage in healthy social contact. Being with people who help us feel safe and connected tells the brain that we are ok and the environment is ok, we have support. Move everyday. Moving gets things flowing through the system and allows your body to help you metabolize stress hormones and other emotion traces. It also helps you be grounded in the moment. This is important because all we have is this moment. Exercise helps us learn to be present to the current experience through physical sensations and teaches us that our behavior matters. Practice breathing with control. Do your best to slow down your breathing rate. When you slow the breath it slows the heart rate, when you slow the heart rate the brain registers that you are safe. This allows your body to help calm your mind. In as little as 3 deep breathes your body will begin to shift from stress responses to the relaxation response and re-set your nervous system, even when mind is trying hard to throw you off with all her chatter.
Second, let’s talk about mind. One of my favorite things is the mind. Mind is so creative and interesting. Sometimes mind drives us bonkers with it’s constant flow of ideas, thoughts, and review of our life. As noted above mind is influenced by the body and that means body is influenced by the mind.
We are just chemical-electrical little beings. Every thought we have produces a chemical and electrical pattern we can map using fancy machines to look at live brains in action. When you have a negative thought it increase stress in the body by changing the balance of chemistry in your body. As your cortisol and adrenaline rise these influence and impact things like heart rate and inflammation levels. As noted above, these have physical health complications over time.
In situations like a fire our mind runs rampant with worry and fear, which raise our stress hormone levels. We watch the news feed and look at the pictures. We talk to our neighbors and friends and strangers and repeat the same stories. All these actions create an electrical – chemical pattern in our brains.
As humans we are very, very adaptable. We are made to adapt. When we follow a thought pattern over and over we create a neurological change to make it easier to access information “if we are repeating it we must need it”, says the brain.
When something is continuing to happen repeatedly our brains figure we need it for survival, so it better adapt. It does this by changing it’s wiring. We call this neuroplasticity. Great when we learn to drive a car, not so great when we adapt toward more fear and worry. During an event like a forest fire, it is hard not to feed the fear, worry, grief, anger, and sadness.
To maintain health we must work with our minds and shift our focus from what is not working to what is. Look for positive things in your life, even small things make big gains. Find a flower, the way the aspen leaves move, the fact that the smoke gets easier during the day, that you like the meal you are eating, or the book you are reading. It doesn’t matter what you shift to, as long as it’s something you like, even for a moment. Those small shifts break the cycle of negative thinking patterns.
We must take responsibility for the thoughts we think and the direction we allow our focus to take. If we let mind run rampant, it will. Those repetitive thoughts feed themselves, creating more negative thinking. Remember, if we feed it fear and worry, we’ll have more fear and worry. Due to adaptation, we’ll focus on and find more negativity all around us. If we honor the fear and worry, then shift our focus to something more positive we are able to control the effects on our body for the better.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “you just don’t understand, I can’t turn my mind off” or “this is so horrible it won’t get better, this is a very bad thing” or some other version of the negative story. Switching your focus to something positive, does not mean you are ignoring the negative. It just means you are in control of your thought focus and you are managing what you pay attention to, thus what you experience in the moment.
Happy people do not experience less negative things, they control their focus and perception. They find the positive or neutral pieces of those experiences better than less happy people. They also do a better job of accepting what is in the moment which gives them more control over their experiences and options for changing it. Happier people know they always have choices (hint: we all do) and they know how to manipulate their choices for the best outcome in the moment.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you like the experiences, want it, or agree with it. It just means you acknowledge what is happening in this moment – not the one you want, not the one you wish you were in, not the one that would be easier. From the place of acceptance, it is easier to see what small step you can take in the direction of positive experience right now. A string of positive experiences creates a different neurological footprint and focus point. From here you have more control of your focus and thus the perception of the event.
Life happens to us all the time. I can’t control most of it. What I can control is how I perceive it. This makes all the difference in the world when in comes to living under negativity or positive experiences. Acceptance isn’t just about the mind, it’s also about accepting your emotional state.
Onto the third element of mental health, emotions. Emotions are a method of intelligence. Although many do not like feeling emotions or are confused by them, they are important pieces to understanding our experiences. Emotions help us know what we need to do with the experience we are having. During a fire we can feel lots of different emotions from fear, anger, sadness to guilt, despair, and even shame to excitement and happiness.
When we first hear the news, we often feel fear right off the bat. Where is the fire, who is effected, where will it spread, how will it move, will I be effected? The unknown is scary. It’s hard to feel safe when we aren’t sure of what’s going to happen. This creates fear.
Fear doesn’t live well when we take control of the moment by being present to what we can control and practicing acceptance. Fear is helped by asking for help and support when needed, too. Seek out information that helps you feel supported and safe.
Many feel anger. Anger is a normal emotion when we feel something is unjust or that someone / something we care about has been hurt somehow. Anger is a healthy response that helps us do something with our emotional energy by making changes. This shift helps us feel empowered and more in control of our world, which decreases our level of fear and changes our perception of experience.
For those of us taught to ignore our anger or those who fear their behavior when angry, it can be hard to honor and express it. It is important to express your emotions in healthy ways to help process and move beyond them. If you are feeling angry it can be helpful to get engaged with an organization we believe in making change in the area of concern, or talking with a trusted friend about your feelings and options for making change.
It is not helpful to repetitively vent, blame others, use violent language or physicality, or ignore your anger completely. It can also be helpful to do the exact opposite of your anger impulse. Anger wants you to yell, honor it and talk softly, anger wants you to hide, find a friend to talk with, anger wants to stew on the topic, do something completely different, go volunteer to distract yourself.
Sadness is often a large component of forest fires. As humans we are biological creatures and connected to nature thus we feel loss at the loss of natural life. It is sad and sadness is all about loss. For some of us we have lost our routines, sleeping in our own beds, or habitats we love. For some we’ve lost freedom of being outside and being comfortable. There are lots of things we’ve lost as the fires continue.
Honor the sadness as it shows us what’s important and helps us create a life worth living around things that matter to us. If you feel your sadness, you know what you care about losing. Then you can make sure to build life experiences that allow you to engage with items most important to you, while honoring change.
Guilt may arise as we find ourselves in conversation with others who are having a harder experience or we may be feeling a different emotion than others. Shame could also arise. Simply put, shame is about feeling like “I’m a bad person” where guilt is more about “I’ve done something bad”. It can be difficult to pick apart these emotions and deal with them. We often want to push them away and hide from them, however as with all emotions it’s more important to acknowledge them and make your choice to act on them from a place of authenticity. Both want you to hide and neither survive well when you are in connection with an empathic and supportive friend. Tell someone you trust what you are feeling to help mitigate these two.
Despair can also arise, especially because this is a repetitive cycle. We hope and pray for snow and water, yet experience drought, we have a good year or two, followed by some bad years. Maybe we are engaged in the conversations about human impact on the climate. All of these create situations where we feel helpless and small, we feel struggle not ease, and we feel as though the problems are so big we cannot solve them. As with anger, it is important to work toward small changes you can feel competent making in your own life. As one person we work in our individual environments to make change, then connect with others making small changes to make a larger impact on the world. Despair results when our sense of helplessness becomes so great that we see no way out. The way out is making small changes we feel good about it.
Happiness, excitement, or joy could also be part of our experience. For many we understand the transformative power of fire and may feel an excitement at the change fire brings. For some we feel excitement or joy knowing fire is natural part of nature and part of healthy forest development. For some we recognize fire is about creating a new beginning and we enjoy seeing the resiliency of the forest as it returns, reminding us all that we, too are resilient beings.
The bottom line on emotions is: whatever you are feeling know it’s normal and it is ok. As humans we can feel a lot of emotions all at once and that is ok. When we work to honor our current experience through emotions, we use them to form actions in healthy outlets. As a result our life becomes more vibrant and rich.
Final Thoughts On Dealing with Difficult Life Events:
If you feel overwhelmed by your experiences seek extra help from a professional. Therapy is great, when else can you sit with someone trained to actively listen to you talk about you for an hour with no bias in your situation. We need other humans to build our brains and make sense of our experiences. Seek out help if you need it.
Finally, perception is everything. Life happens, and it happens to all of us. We have little control in what is going on around us, however we have much control in how we respond to it. The way you manage your physical environment and body, pay attention to your thoughts and focus, and allow yourself to gather information from your emotions and make informed healthy action choices as a result, keep us regulated. This regulation is important as we continue to be stressed by disruptions and as we continue to move through this year’s fire season and beyond.
Make sure to take care of you.
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For years I have worked with people who are lost when it comes to follow through on goals and behavior changes. It can be frustrating to set goals only to fail at achieving them. One reason people do not reach personal goals is they do not prioritize themselves above others. Now this may sound selfish, and many of us have been taught that to focus on myself would mean I am not a community player. However, the reality is … you MUST focus on yourself first. You cannot take care of anyone else if you are depleted. You HAVE to put yourself first if you are to be in a place to give.
Many of us are so busy. In fact you may be saying “if I take that hour for myself, I won’t be able to feed my kids dinner or walk my dogs or get that project done at work”. Believe me I know. This is a constant struggle in my life. How can I balance my personal creative outlets, workouts, work tasks, feeding people, being a good pet owner, and showing my kids and husband how much I love them? Some days it feels like an unsurmountable task.
Yet what I know is … if I take care of me first, then the other stuff gets done AND gets done better. I’m more focused, engaged, and connected to my family, friends, and pets. I am more efficient at getting my work done because I am focused. I am happier because I feel better about myself. This is a direct result from accomplishing a goal I set in front of me. I feel masterful. The feeling of mastery is important in building self confidence which brings out my best self to share with others. To have all this, I MUST put myself first.
In a study done by Burke, Swigart, Warziski, Derro, and Ewing (2009), the authors found that self-monitoring is a great way to increase understanding of behavior choices and change options, however 2 groups of people struggled to follow through. One group committed half way and the other gave up, completely. Key factors included making themselves and their goals a top priority and finding positive supportive people to surround themselves with. The pieces that separated those 2 groups from the one that solidly made their goal during the year of weight loss, and maintained it 6 months later, outlines ideas we can all use.
First, the group that made it was organized and focused on the goal. They carried their food diaries (part of the study guidelines) with them, recorded their food and exercise choices, and had supportive people in their lives. They reported an understanding of cause and effect. They knew and/or learned how their choices everyday contributed to the goal they’d set and they made their choices in ways that promoted their success. On the other hand the groups that struggled had some big differences.
In both groups that struggled to meet the goals people were not as organized. They spoke of forgetting their journals or writing down daily food choices on scrapes of paper they later lost. They didn’t have strong support people in their corner and they didn’t prioritize themselves over other obligations. They used more excuses regarding busy life tasks and other responsibilities to make up for emotional eating and lack of adherence to the plan set forth by the study. Some even hid their goals and hopes from their loved ones and co-workers or commented on the sabotaging behavior toward them partners and friends did regarding their goal. In the group that struggled the most they were more overwhelmed with life, reported more physical exhaustion, had more self blame, and were not able to nurture and take responsibility for themselves.
It’s interesting how we get in our own way. In the last article on the imposter phenomenon (Feeling Like a Phony. The Imposter Phenomenon) we discussed how we might come to hide our brilliance or feel like we can’t really try because we might fail. Many of us use this as a way to circumvent reaching our goals. Today, we are looking at how not taking full responsibility for ourselves and our personal choices gets in our way. Do either sound like you? If so they may be keeping you from your health goals.
Do you set a goal only to find ways around by blaming yourself or others? I hear things like “I can’t eat that way, my family won’t like it” or “I had to stay late at work because I couldn’t say no” or “everyone does it that way in my family, I don’t think I could go for a walk instead of watch TV”, this list goes on.
Do you find yourself setting the bar so high you’ll never make it on the first try and then blame yourself or others for your failure, shame yourself, or collapse under the strain of trying to be prefect?
What about organizing and planning well? Do you find yourself disorganized and unable to find your keys, journal, pen, a shoe not to mention find the time to collect your thoughts and write them down/track your food and moods?
The bottom line is you have choices everyday all day long. When we understand the link between our choices and our outcomes – plus take full responsibility for those outcome – we become more powerful. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Are you the top priority in your life?
- If not, why not?
- Can you keep your goal in your sights all the time (i.e. the office lunch? Holiday dinner? Getting to bed on time so you can work out early?)
- If not, what gets in your way?
- When planning your focus, can you follow through on packing snacks, choosing healthy movement/eating options, and getting enough down time in your daily life?
- Again, if not, why not?
- And if you can do those things – how do you do it?
- What makes you successful?
- How do you hold your focus?
Do you have the right support people in your corner? Who are they and what do you like about their support? If you don’t have supportive friends and family, where can you find them? A group? Work? Trainer? This was an important part of success for the group able to maintain their weight loss and a huge factor for the group that struggled the hardest. Here are some tips on finding a workout buddy who can support you: 3 things to consider when choosing a workout partner.
If you are struggling with any of the above connect with me. Sometimes the behaviors getting in our way are serving a purpose. For instance, you might not know anyone you respect who is organized, or you may have been taught to be perfect is the only option. You might find that to reach your goal means your friends and family become distant and that is painful and confusing. At times the lack of accomplishing a goal is about the meaning we place on the goal and our identity tied into who we are today and who we believe we can be tomorrow.
Burke, L.E., Swigart, V., Turk, M. W., Derro, N., and Ewing, L. J. (2009). Experiences of self-monitoring: Successes and struggles during treatment for weight loss. Quality Health Res 19(6), 815-828. doi:10.1177/1049732309335395
Photo Credit: Confessions of a Jesus Freak Blog Post