If you have a goal you are having difficulty achieving, are you really committed to it? When did you make that commitment? How does it influence the choices you make every day? You may be surprised to learn that as well as helping us, our true commitments can also be getting in our way.
We all have commitments we are used to talking about such as being a committed partner, parent, or employee. We also talk about commitment to our goals such as starting a business, paying off loans, or losing 10lbs. Whatever your goal, you made a decision at some point to pursue this and now your time and resources are focused on achieving the outcome you want. But what if you only think you are committed to that goal when all along you are really committed to something else. If you find you make progress towards your goal one week and slip back the next or you are in an endless cycle of losing and gaining weight you may want to read on.
To commit to something new we may first need to let go of our current commitment. If we commit to something that requires a lot of work and some pain or discomfort we need to let go of the commitment we have to avoiding pain and discomfort, in other words we need to let go of a commitment to making life easy and comfortable.
Committing to a new goal often requires us to make changes. When clients tell me about things in their life they want to change, whether it’s having better relationships, changing career or losing weight, they usually also tell me that it’s hard to change. I understand it feels hard. It’s meant to. Your brain is doing its best to keep you safe and it has kept you alive so far doing the things you are doing now. Its logic follows that has to be safer than taking a risk on doing something different. That’s more predictable usually but not necessarily safer, especially if not changing is ultimately detrimental to your wellbeing. So, accepting that our brains are designed to be resistant to change, lets look at how we can use commitment to help make the changes we want.
Here change means taking an action or set of actions that is different to what we are currently doing. Change itself is neither hard nor easy. It is the thoughts that we have about the actions required to make the change and our expectation of the consequences that determine how it feels to us – which could be everything from easy to impossible.
When it feels hard we can get stuck and talk ourselves out of it by choosing to believe we can’t change, the cost is too high, or we just don’t know where to start. If you do this, you are committing to your current circumstances and ways of doing things. That’s OK if you are making a clear choice to commit to life as it is and you stop pretending that you are going to make a change. However, if you truly want to make a change this will only happen if you commit to how you want to be and let go of your commitment to the current way you are doing things. When you truly commit to something your brain becomes an amazing ally and will do everything it can to create that reality.
If you are thinking to yourself that you don’t know how to do things differently, that’s ok, you don’t need to know yet. I am just inviting you to commit to what you want; to doing things differently and to taking the actions that are right for you when you do know. That is different to knowing how to do it. Once you make that commitment you can take the steps to find out the how. Your commitment is the first step and it will keep you going when things get challenging.
If you wait until you know what to do before you commit you are making your commitment contingent upon gaining that knowledge not on your true desire to achieve something different. Therefore your brain will conveniently keep you in that place of not knowing because that way it doesn’t have to change. Until you commit to what you want then you are committed to what you have and your brain will do its best to keep delivering that result.
Let’s look at how this might play out if your goal was to lose weight and feel healthier. You may have had a good week, you’ve been to the gym and stuck to your food plan. Then you have a tough day at work and the kids are playing up. You start to feel low and your thoughts might be something like, “I don’t deserve this”, “It should be easier”, “Why is my life so difficult” you start to feel a little sorry for yourself which is unpleasant and eventually you reach for the packet of cookies that you hid at the back of the cupboard so the kids couldn’t find it. At that moment you are not committed to your goal so you must be committed to staying the same – if you currently feel overweight and unhealthy then that is what you are committed to.
If you are truly committed to your goal to lose weight, then your decision not to eat the cookies would have been made in the past when you were drawing up your meal plan. When you went to the store you wouldn’t have made the decision to buy the cookies because they weren’t on your plan. If you were truly committed to your goal you would have considered ahead of time when you are most challenged and the behavior this leads to and you would have planned strategies to address these. In other words you would have done everything possible to set yourself up for success. If you are not committed to the goal of weighing less and feeling healthier you are undermining your ability to succeed. You are leaving the decision of whether or not to eat the cookies to the hardest possible moment to make the choice to take the healthy action.
Making changes comes at a cost and may require discipline, planning, self-awareness and a willingness to make mistakes and keep on going anyway. That is what commitment to a goal means. If we know when we feel low we reach for food to numb out any uncomfortable feelings (like sadness, loneliness, despair, and resentment) then to change that behavior we need to lean into the discomfort and really understand what we are feeling low about, accept that we feel low about this, and then choose what we want to do about it. That takes courage and compassion (not cookies), and without that work you may find you are unable to break the cycle and make the changes you want.
So, what are you really committed to? What results are you getting that might suggest your commitments and your goals are not currently aligned. What do you want to do about that?
I will write more about this topic in the future and share my thoughts on why letting go of existing commitments can be particularly challenging.
If something you read here helps you in anyway, make my day, and let me know. If there is a topic you would like me to cover or a question you would like to ask please post it in the comments. If you are interested in exploring these ideas further and would like to talk about how coaching could help you, please follow this link to book a free discovery call.