Something’s Gotta Give: Changing to Create Change

How Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Holding Up?

The New Year has come and gone, and most of us are watching our new years resolutions dwindle into puffs of smoke, ghosts of our former fervent wishes. Where we had promised to eat a solid breakfast, we are instead listening to the gurgling of an empty stomach loaded with coffee, inducing a foggy mind that lacks the nourishment it needs to focus on our work. Our commitment to the gym after work has been replaced with glasses of wine with dinner. Our healthy 4pm snack is slowly being edged out by our office mate’s bowl of candy…. It is the tale of new years resolutions and their fates the world over.

Truth is, as humans, we are inherently opposed to change. Despite our greatest desire to see our lives and our potential through somewhat rose colored lenses, we toil away day in and day out in jobs we may not enjoy, eating foods we know are not good for us, leading us to have bodies that we wish looked differently and because all of that feels so terrible, we go out with our friends or loved ones for big dinners or ice cream in order to pacify the dissatisfactions of our days. In The Art Of Loving, a masterpiece of a book written eons ago by the eminent psychologist Erich Fromm, he discusses how we humans are automatons that are more like cogs in the machine of a life we feel we have little control over. Because of this we feel “entitled” to come home and watch five hours of television after work (which we know goes hand in hand with mindless snacking, therefore packing on the pounds) because we have “earned” it. If we are working in a job we don’t like and living a life that feels sub-par then we look to console ourselves when we are in the comfort of our own homes and that comfort usually includes passive and unhealthy behavior that in turn keeps us from working towards and achieving a more gratifying life.

See the cycle?

By letting ourselves down in one way, we spiral downwards and often let ourselves down in multiple ways. Soon self-loathing sets in, then as day follows night, inspiration strikes and we once again decide to commit to a massive overhaul of our lives in order to regain control and get to where we know we have the potential to be. But huge changes are hard to sustain and soon, we are back on the spinning wheel, losing ground and feeling defeated as we stuff bonbons into our mouths watching the latest installment of Housewives.

Not long ago, I began working with a client who is doing most of the hard work necessary to get to his weight goals. He is eating a solid breakfast where in the past he would skip this necessary aspect of healthy living only to find himself binging all night long till he went to sleep. He began going to the gym regularly, even splurging on a trainer a few days a week to maintain his commitment to himself. He was also careful to have a snack in the afternoon in order to keep himself from eating the cookies and candies that inevitably hung around the office. All great work. Yet, he stopped losing weight well before his target weight and sitting on this plateau for some time, we began to delve deeper to see what it was that was keeping him from his goal.

Turns out that he drank upwards of half a bottle of wine every night when he got home. This was on a down night. If his evenings included business dinners or dinner with his girlfriend, the quantity was doubled, leading to a softening of his intentions and waning of his resolve. Once in the la-la land of a wine induced haze, there seemed to be no good reason NOT to have a bit of bread before dinner. And what was the harm, after all in splitting a dessert with his girlfriend. What is half a dessert anyway?

Turns out, half a dessert can weigh in at as much as 250 calories or more. And that is on top of the extra calories already consumed with the wine and bread. These evening events were destroying his otherwise stellar efforts at weight loss. Yet he was reluctant to change, looking instead for short cuts and other ways in which to whittle down the pounds without having to relinquish this one escapist behavior.

But it was no use. There were no short cuts. So finally, reluctantly, he began to look at this issue and we talked about ways that he could navigate his evenings to both lose weight but also stay present to his life, his feelings and his goals.

You see, in coming home and escaping into a glass of wine he was trying to escape the fact that his job was burning him out and that his relationship with his girlfriend was perhaps not what he wanted it to be. Rather than looking at these issues and finding ways to navigate them towards the end result he longed for which was greater job satisfaction and a relationship that made him feel loved and appreciated, he continued to drink wine, passively going through his evenings which in turn did not allow for clarity or insight on how to steer his ship towards the goals he sought. Then in turn, things didn’t change, the job continued to take it out of him, his relationship left him feeling flat and his scale reflected his attachment to his evening routine, which in turn made him even more attached to his wine. See the cycle? In escaping into wine, nothing changed and because nothing changed he escaped into wine. Now substitute the wine for chocolate or extra helpings or grazing on junk food until bedtime and you’ll see that this is behavior we all engage in in order to cope with our lives.

After discussing the practicalities of his life, he decided on leaving his alcohol consumption to business dinners and fine dining events, forgoing wine at home after work and casual meals with his girlfriend. And because one behavior is hard to drop without substituting it with something else, he committed to trying some of the recipes I’d given him on the evenings he hung out with his girlfriend, giving them something fun and creative to do together so that they could stay engaged with one another and connect in a different way. He resolutely set about his new plan but with some trepidation.

When we followed up a month later he had lost an additional 3 pounds after having followed our plan nearly to the letter. He no longer was drinking wine after work every night and he and his girlfriend were cooking meals together two to three times a week and the practice of doing that was bringing them closer in a new way. They emailed each other recipes to try, venturing down to Union Square Market for ingredients and setting a nice table to honor their efforts (this last touch was definitely the girlfriends idea). He started feeling more engaged with her and in turn their relationship began to feel better in his heart.

Reducing the alcohol also allowed for better sleep, which in turn gave him clarity and a focus at work, that he didn’t realize he lacked until he had the comparison. Suddenly his job felt more tolerable and although not his dream job, he was seeing ways to improve the situation he was in and began sketching out the path before him in order to move towards the job he felt he was best suited for. He felt happier and more engaged than he had in a long time and he was finally stepping off that awful plateau that made him feel sad and defeated. It was wonderful to hear all his great news.

Changing one limiting habit has the potential to ripple out towards all the areas in your life that feel stuck. The confidence that you gain by overcoming one thing can amazingly embolden you in all kinds of ways. Problems like weight don’t exist in isolation. Instead they are part of a complex weave of subtle and not so subtle issues that work together to keep you small. By overcoming the one thing you thought you could not do, you open yourself to a whole new possibility.

So ask yourself: where am I keeping myself down? What is the one behavior I engage in that is keeping me from losing weight, feeling good and living the life that I want? Once you have identified it, begin to set about changing it and then make it happen. Once you let go, wait and watch your life begin to change into the life you have always dreamed of. I’d love to hear your stories!