You hear it every day, all the time, everywhere.
“I’ve quit smoking six times, but this time it’s for good. I hope.”
“Damn, I’ve got to cut down on the booze. These mornings are killing me. By the way, there’s a margarita party Friday night. You want to go?”
“I admit it. I’m a chocaholic. I joined a group and I cut down, but that cake looks too good to resist.”
With the best of intentions and the will of crusaders, people make the tough decision to change their lives for the better by removing the excesses and vices they recognize as damaging to their health and well-being. After making that single, crucial decision to set out on a new path, they often enter 90-day transformation challenges. For three months they embark on a new world with a new set of rules. Counseling, cajoling, exercise and analysis all combine to reduce their reliance on their addictions and create a new version of their very being. The days turn to weeks, and momentum builds. The results can be startling: lost weight, reduced desires, a new you.
The final day arrives as a celebratory graduation. The pupils have learned their lessons and are prepared to re-enter their old world with their new techniques and their prideful determination. A new day has dawned.
A week later, back in the familiar world, the old habits slowly return.
What’s missing? Why do people with the best of intentions fall back on their old habits so quickly once they return to their familiar surroundings. The answer is simple. Transforming yourself is not a process that can be measured by a calendar. The folks who go through health transformation challenges inevitably view the process as a finite endeavor, one that encompasses a single, 90-day period. They leave with the hope that something from the process has rubbed off on them, but when that transformation period ends, so does the effort to transform.
It’s almost like Lent. You give up hamburgers for forty days, and on Easter Sunday you are plopped down in McDonald’s.
You cannot spend a lifetime developing habits—be they poor nutrition, unhealthy vices, or destructive trains of thought—and expect to overcome those habits in 90 days. Personal transformation is a journey that knows no boundaries of time. Personal transformation requires a deliberate, continuous process, and crucial to the success of that process is a single concept: acceptance.
Okay. Can it possibly be that simple? Well, no. But vital transformation truly does begin when you fully accept your singular humanity. As you start to pursue a new life free of the negativity that has dogged your past, you need first to accept yourself, as you are. Whether you are taking your first small steps towards your goals or you are standing on the very edge of profound personal understanding, the joy you discover will be in the pursuit of that fulfillment. Embrace your effort. Celebrate the endeavor. Accept the setbacks with the small victories. It shouldn’t matter on what leg of the journey you find yourself, because the joy is in the journey.
Now, let the journey begin. Identify one habit you want to change. Devote the next 90 days to retraining yourself to do away with it. However, don’t view this period as some sort of emotional boot camp. This is a chance to regard your world with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. Balance your retraining with periods of rest and reflection. As you release the negative and embark on the new, consider why you are attracted to the familiar. What is it about the routine that draws you back? What is it about your environment that you find so fulfilling? Most importantly, what is it in your world that triggers the return to the habits and the negative behavior that cause you to suffer.
Many external stressors effect behavior, but a single underlying energy no doubt holds the greatest power: the subconscious. The unconscious mind drives a large portion of our conscious lives. It acts to organize our time and resources, and it creates a set of principles that practically dictate our behavior.
In fact, the subconscious acts against anything new and novel that is a move away from the familiar. Most of this occurs below our realm of awareness.
Now it is important to understand something about the subconscious. It doesn’t make value judgements. It doesn’t discern the difference between a bad habit and a good habit. The subconscious simply values the repetitive and the familiar. It seeks to keep you firmly in the ruts on the road you have been traveling. Remember those folks who went through the 90-day transformation challenge? Each one of them left the challenge with a new set of priorities and a new outlook on life. Yet each one of them returned to the world with their subconscious unchanged. As they tried to adopt a new lifestyle devoid of the bad habits, their subconscious fought those changes and worked to steer them back onto the same, old, rutted road.
So be aware. If in your 90-day retraining period you are trying to reach a more comfortable weight or increase your fitness level, understand that your subconscious will work against you to keep you the same.
Another thing. Don’t regard this first 90-day period as a time to completely rearrange your world. A lifetime of bad habits will not be changed by a miracle diet or a new workout. It just doesn’t work like that. Too many times a person will adopt a radical approach to change behavior only to have triggers and stressors—and a healthy dose of the subconscious—drive the person back to his or her old ways. A new diet or a new workout routine comes along, and the person will dive in again. So begins a vicious cycle that has been repeated uncounted times. This is not the way to success. What you want to accomplish is a slow, steady stream of subtle, incremental changes that will give you the very best chance to sustain the results of your efforts. Don’t rush. Create humble goals and embrace the effort to reach them. Enjoy your small victories, and don’t despair the setbacks.
Your first 90 days have ended. With your hard work and determination, you have reached your goals. But now is not the time to stop. Regard those first 90 days as a kind of trial run on your new life. Now take another 90 days and consider what you have accomplished. Balance the effort of the first period with a time of reflection and rest, a time to take stock and renew. Be aware that your subconscious will rebel, but using the technique of approaching a single bad habit with incremental change will help your subconscious realign those ruts in the road to help steer you in your new direction.
Understand something else. What will underpin your success is belief. You must believe that you have the capacity to change. You must believe that your efforts will produce results and that things will get better. But, most of all, you must believe that you are worth the effort. That can be a difficult process, but you have to discover exactly what you believe to be true about yourself for things to really change, because with that belief will come change—real change.
Your beliefs are housed deep in the confines of your subconscious. By starting the practice of self inquiry you can ask questions of the subconscious to help shed light on some of your strongest and most dearly held beliefs. If you are finding the concept of acceptance hard, then you might want to ask yourself what you believe about your worth and worthiness. Are you unworthy of the changes you are seeking? Would it possible for you to be happy if nothing changed? What would it be like to live with the belief that you weren’t unworthy?
Accompanying any belief are the raw feelings that underpin them. As you begin to investigate your beliefs allow some room for these feelings to breath. Yes, that may come with some discomfort but your breath will allow you to ride the wave – just keep exhaling the intensity.
I don’t need to tell you that the modern world is a chaotic place. Stressors are everywhere, especially in the hysteria driven media. The vast amounts and immediacy of information can overwhelm even the casual observer. Also, as a society we have allowed our addictive tendencies with food and a whole host of other pursuits to gain too much control. We need to discover new ways to approach life, more mindful ways of living in general. We need to view our time on earth through the prism of natural enjoyment rather than the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. We need to rediscover fun.
The old ways aren’t working. 90-day transformation challenges lead to a vicious cycle of fad diets and radical workouts followed by failure to follow through and an exhaustion of effort. There is a new way: 90 days of subtle, incremental change, followed by 90 days of reflection and integration, followed by 90 days of subtle incremental change, followed by 90 days of reflection and integration, followed by…
You see where I’m going.
Accept yourself and take joy in the journey. Understand the role of the subconscious and that you need to help it realign itself, that you need to help understand and uproot some of that which is holding the old and the familiar in place. Believe that better days are in front of you and that you are more than worth the effort.
Because we all are.
**Credit to Patrick Brennan for writing collaboration