By LaDonna Spivey
Someone once surmised that most people who go into the field of psychology do so because they are trying to figure themselves out. I don’t know if that generalization applies to everyone, but for me, the concept definitely applies.
I encourage people to incorporate healthy eating habits into their daily lives. I extol the virtues of regular, consistent movement and exercise. I give tips for helping yourself “stay on track” and manage your time. However, “discipline” is a wiggling, slippery fish that I consistently struggle to grab and hold onto. Every time I think I have a good hold on a desireable habit — like eating 3-5 servings of vegetables everyday or writing my column every week, or every time I think I’ve kicked a undesireable habit — like the milkshake-a-day-because-I-earned-it-I’m training-for-a-triathlon habit (don’t ask), I relax my grip. Immediately that discipline fish flies out of my lax fingers and splashes back into the murky waters from whence it came. I have to jump in after it and start all over again.
It reminds me of one of my favorite verses. In Galations 7 Paul says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Dude, I am SO there.
OK, I know that Paul was referring to sin, but the concept is the same for our daily lives. We want to do things that are beneficial, but find ourselves delighting in the detrimental.
It can be frustrating, but rest assured. Most of us are, or at some point have been, in the same rocky boat. Change is not easy, but it is also not impossible. Here are some tips.
1. Focus on changing one thing at a time. Often we say, “Starting today I’m going to quit smoking, start eating healthy and work out at least three times a week!” We mean it when we say it, but by biting off more than we can chew we set ourselves up for failure. Focus on one small change. When you do it consistently for 30 days, add the next goal. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Identify your cues and rewards. If you are trying to a habit, first identify the “when” and “why”. For example if you find yourself at the snack machine afternoon at the same time, then promising that you won’t be there tomorrow, find out why. Are you bored, is your blood sugar low because you didn’t eat enough at lunch, is it a welcome break from sitting at your desk and looking at a computer screen?… Once you know why you do something you can identify the reward. Does it make you feel good, do you get a change of scenery, do you get to socialize with co-workers, etc.? Then you can experiment with other beneficial habits that give you the same reward. You might not find a new habit the first time, but you have to keep trying. Which brings us to the next point.
3. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again. And again. And again… Very few people who achieve their goals achieved them in the first or second try. For many people it took many misses before they finally hit a home run. Don’t let guilt and despair stop you from starting over. You can only win if you are in the game. Did you know that Thomas Edison made 1,000 failed attempts before he got the light bulb to work? Or Walt Disney was fired from his job for “lack of imagination”? He then went on start a number of businesses that failed and he ended up in bankruptcy long before anyone ever overspent at a Disney park. Likewise, the biggest secret about Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe is that no one wanted it. He was rejected 1,109 times before a restaurant finally accepted what we now know as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Failure is not your enemy. It helps you learn what won’t work so you can work on what does.
4. Support and Accountability. One of the great things about social media is that you have instant access to a community of supporters. If you don’t have someone in your home who will help keep you on track, turn to friends online and off. Post your goals. Invite people to inquire about them. Co-workers are great about reminding you that you said you were going to run during your lunch break, but this is the third day in a row that you’ve been sitting in the break room eating the Colonel’s secret recipe. The more people who know about your goals, the more accountable you will be.
5. Log your achievements. Whether it’s online, in a notebook, or on your refrigerator, if you can look back and see what you have accomplished it will motivate you to stay on track.
Paul ends the chapter decrying Paul laments, “Oh what a wretched man am I!”
Been there too, Paul.
But he ends the chapter with good news. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” With God’s help and determination we can transform our bad habits into good ones. We can conquer discipline and serve it up (broiled not fried) on a platter!
See you next week.