The struggle is real

Have you ever tried to change a habit but given up after a week or two? Why is it so hard to sustain change?

One of the things I say to all my clients in the first session is that people often do well in counselling, they make significant improvements in relation to the goals they set themselves but as soon as the sessions end they very gradually slip back to old ways, old habits, or old thinking patterns or behaviours.

This past week I’ve been on my own change journey. I’ve done something that much of my life I’ve resisted… I’ve gone on a diet. My working pattern over the last few months meant that I would see clients between 9am–3pm with only ten minutes gap in between each session. This led me to having a quick snack such as a few biscuits, a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps to keep me going. Months of this are taking its toll, my clothes were feeling tight. With Christmas on the horizon I knew I needed to do something to feel better about myself and change the direction that I was heading in.

I joined a local Lighter Life Xpress class. I was weighed and my BMI calculated. I purchased four food packets for each day and was told I need to drink only water or black tea or black coffee. I started off so motivated, keen, and pardon the pun, hungry for success. It helped that the first day I dropped two pounds. As the week went on I became grumpy, irritable and tired. For much of the day I felt deprived. In the evening I went to bed earlier to avoid any temptation to eat.

The sabotaging voice in my head started planting seeds of doubt … “this is not natural” …”life is too short not to enjoy it” and the biggest one ”you’ve lost five pounds, give yourself a reward.” It was after a full week of sticking to this very low calorie diet that I was ready to celebrate my hardship, with a bag of chips or some hot buttered toast – or even better a combination of both - a chip butty!

At the Lighter Life express meeting we sat on chairs in a circle, exactly as I imagined an AA meeting to go, and spoke about our critical voice and our supporting voice. My critical voice was ready to reward my efforts after just a week… “look at how good I’ve been!” It was only chatting to the lady next to me that I could begin to hear my supporting voice again. She had been on this extreme non-food diet for 11 weeks and had to resize her wedding ring as a result, I sat in awe of her stamina and staying power.

I knew I had to stick with it, make it last longer than a week. I thought back to a book that had a big impact on me earlier this year Atomic Habits, and was reminded of something Aristotle said We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

I know about the almighty power of habits. I know which positive habits I want to establish. I know in my moments of weakness I must strive all the more to stick to the positive new habit and not revert to the old familiar one. The struggle is real but it’s worth it in order to create a different outcome. Creating positive habits is about sustained continued effort over a period of time (such as the rest of your life!). It’s not the short, quick wins.

Nicola Strudley