By Kathleen, one of our talented workplace health promotion coaches.
I know it’s not exactly the “new year” anymore, and for many, while we had good intentions of using the new year for a fresh start… the unfortunate reality is that most people have abandoned their resolutions by now. Why do so few people stick with their goals throughout the year? Life happens. Sometimes we make excuses to justify delaying or abandoning goals and resolutions but that’s not the reason we quit, these are just mechanisms to avoid the guilt or sense of worthlessness that can follow.
What if we could learn to stay more motivated to achieve our goals? It all begins with our minds, and sometimes, a relatively simple change in perspective or our self-talk can have a significant impact on the outcomes. First, let’s consider the things that get in the way. The barriers, or hurdles we need to overcome. Brene Brown, a researcher who studies shame, empathy and vulnerability, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”. For example, you are running late to work or an appointment because you stayed up late binge-watching Netflix. You missed your alarm and are flustered. As you run out the door you spill coffee all over your clothes… What would your self-talk be? Do you blame yourself as a person, or do you blame the behavior and situation? It’s subtle, but it makes a huge difference!
Shame negatively focuses on self, making the action or situation a generalized negative reflection of personal flaws, for example, thinking “I am stupid. Why did I stay up so late and make myself late?” Compare that self-talk to: “I did something stupid, but I’m human, I’ll try to move past this and learn from it.” The first example is shame and lowers self-worth, almost making the negative behavior seem inevitable because you couldn’t expect any better. The second example is guilt, which focuses on the behavior, which can more easily be changed than an apparent inherent personality flaw. Subtle changes in self-talk can be a very powerful tool for our confidence!
It is important to keep in mind that thinking leads to feeling, which leads to behavior, and most health goals (and let’s be honest… also our parenting, relationship, professional, and basically all our goals) are about implementing consistent positive behaviors. So, what is the recipe for a successful healthy mindset? Well, I wish it was that easy, but I will say, it will take a little time and is a journey. I think a good starting point is talking about vulnerability. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as “the center of difficult emotion but it is also the birthplace of every positive emotion that we need in our lives, [for example] love, belonging, joy, & empathy”. What if vulnerability was the key to unlocking a more positive mindset?
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can open the door for many new and exciting things. Letting go of the negative aspects of our lives and cultivating the positive aspects starts with being vulnerable.
Brene Brown explains that courage, compassion, and connection are needed to let go of negative aspects and cultivate positive ones. Practicing tools of courage, compassion, and connection can be difficult at times and is certainly a process rather than a checkbox to scratch off the list of things “to-do”; but it is a very rewarding process.
Being vulnerable helps us be persistent in taking small steps towards our goals. Having the strength to say “I am not perfect, it might take time to reach my goal, there will be hurdles, but I will learn from setbacks and fight my way towards those goals. I got this!” We also need to remember that taking small steps to reach our goals is effective because it helps us build confidence through the success of achieving each small step. Small success builds momentum to achieve more challenging changes. If your goal is to eat more balanced, healthy meals, maybe making a goal for cooking at least 2 days out of the week would be a great start. Or if your goal is to get more exercise maybe start with: “I will take 10 minutes on my lunch break to move”. Even planning to start practicing courage or gratitude daily might be a good start point.
As for me, my goal is to take 2-5 minutes at the end of my day to write in a 5-year, one-line a day journal. The goal is to write one line about a positive part of my day. Whether it be gratitude: ”I am grateful that my out-of-state family was able to visit this week”; or, how I overcome a challenge or struggle, like competing in my first mountain trail race post-pregnancy; or, a joyful moment in my life: such as watching my daughter take her first steps. Yes, I may not get to write in my journal every single night, which is OK. But on the nights when I say “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”, that is when I need to watch my self-talk and ensure I tell myself “I didn’t find the time or didn’t make the effort last night. I’ll make more of an effort tonight because this is important to me”, instead of self-talk like “I’m useless. I can’t even find 5 minutes or think of one positive thing I did today.” See the difference? See how one acknowledges a slip in behavior but allows me to continue the journey whereas the other slowly chips at my confidence and self-worth? I will challenge myself to grow by taking that time daily, but maintaining an appropriate perspective when I don’t. I will grow each day by practicing gratitude, creativity, and self-love so that next year, I can look back at all my accomplishments, joyful moments, and challenges that I overcame throughout the year which will simply help to strengthen my new positive mindset and help shift away from shame and personal blame. Will you join me on that journey?
Want to learn more or hear directly from Brene? You can check out her TED Talks via this link or visit her website at brenebrown.com. Tell us what you think!