The Hardest Part
Starting is not the hardest part, contrary to popular belief. Yeah, starting a new project is a lot of work, and planning, and there is a lot of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other in the beginning. The hardest part is what comes immediately after the start. I’m talking about the part between your last “cheat meal” and feeling like your new food plan isn’t a big deal. It’s the time between your first really fun belly dance class and the sixth one, when you no longer have to force yourself to get your pants on and go to the studio. It’s the space where your new reality is forming, and it can be incredibly painful to push through and get all the way onto the right path, moving forward.
I published my first blog post in a couple of years last week. It was exhilarating and scary. As I write this today, I can already feel the… I don’t know… Chrysalis Phase setting in. I catch myself wondering if all this work is worth it. Is anybody even going to read this stuff? Man, it’s a lot of work if it’s for nothing.
Every change has a phase characterized by doubt.
What if I never have another croissant and I never get any thinner, either? What if I stop smoking and I still have lung problems? What if I write that entire book and it sucks and nobody reads it? What if I deprive myself or put out extreme effort in some way (or both) and it’s not worth it?
Guess what?! All of this doubt is a function of your subconscious mind! Yep. It’s supposed to do that.
“Are you shitting me right now?” you ask. “Why would it do that?”
Let’s talk about the part of your subconscious I call the Self-Image.
It’s like a nervous mum: wringing her hands and trying to think of how to warn you about what she thinks is coming. She doesn’t want you to be hurt or disappointed. She wants you to do what she thinks is best, and unfortunately for self-improvement, what your brain-mum thinks is best is what you’ve been doing all along. (“You didn’t die, so it must be safe. This new thing you want to do might kill you.”)
So, when you make a change that is uncomfortable or difficult, your Self-Image will detect some level of pain. Your conscious mind knows this is a “good pain,” but your Self-Image just thinks that something is wrong and weird. It’s going to stop you from doing the new thing that it perceives to be hurting you, however it can. It does this a whole slew of different and annoying ways, but for our purposes here, we’re going to narrow our discussion to the Self-Doubt Trap.
One of the most efficient ways your Self-Image can shut down your change in behavior is by making you believe that your change won’t work or isn’t worth it. Once you’ve tried something and are excited about it, or have a plan in place and have started to implement it, you may begin to feel like it’s going to fail, or you might forget to do the things you planned to do that would keep you going with your change. You might also encounter a bunch of things that feel far more important and that need to be accomplished right now. That’s your Self-Image, trying to make you stop doing the scary new thing and go back to your safe status quo by causing you to stop changing.
Here are some things you can do to stay on track while your Self-Image is trying heartily to derail your efforts with self-doubt:
1) Start with a really compelling why
You need to know why you want to make the change in the first place, and you need to know it in your bones. And don’t try to pass off an “acceptable” motivation as the real one. “I really want to be healthy” might work for some people, but that is definitely not going to get me into the gym every day. (It doesn’t work for most of my clients, either.) “I want to feel like a bombshell at my birthday party” is a reason that is a whole lot more compelling to me. You have to be really honest with yourself about the why.
Note: A compelling why is not the same as a why you can defend in an argument. A real why is often not logical or something someone else will understand. Please be ruthless about who you share your dreams with in this fragile phase of change. Your friends and family are often as freaked out by your change as your Self-Image is, and they will sometimes say and do things to knock you off track. It might not be on purpose, but it doesn’t matter. The damage is done. You don’t have to explain yourself, and it’s often best if you don’t even tell anyone you’re working on a change.
2) Let yourself start from zero.
When I say start from zero, I mean two things:
A) Let go of your preconceived notion of where you should be in relation to your goal. Most people want to be as good at watercolor painting as they were when they were in art school the first time they pick up a brush in 15 years. You won’t be. Get with that. If you feel like you have wasted time in getting to your goal, or you’ve had to try to change a habit a bunch of times, you need to let go of your past attempts and let yourself start from zero. Otherwise you’re starting at an imaginary deficit, and that is demoralizing as fuck.
B) Allow yourself the time that is needed. You are not going to go from the start to the finish instantly. If you do, you picked a useless goal. Making a worthy change should actually change you, and that takes some time. If you start out being cool with the time it takes to make a real change, for some reason it seems to delay your Self-Image from clamping down on what you’re doing. You’ll both buy yourself some time before your subconscious starts to freak out, and be able to relax into the process. Good things all around.
3) Drop the idea of perfection.
You will probably find fault with your attempts to assimilate your new habits and attributes. Knock that shit off immediately! Perfection is a fallacy, and it only serves to derail your attempts to change. Okay, you forgot to take your supplement this morning. So what? Take it tomorrow. You let yourself slack off and didn’t do your meditation in the morning. Do it now; tomorrow, do it on time.
If you could do everything required for your change perfectly to begin with, it would not be a worthy goal. You are going to feel a lot more successful, and change will be more long lasting, if you allow yourself to see your small changes as victories instead of focusing on what didn’t go to plan.
4) Record your progress.
“The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.” – Adam Savage
If you want to know that you are making progress, write it all down. I’m not just talking about weigh-ins and check lists. Track the time you spent playing the guitar today, and this week, and this month. Take pictures of all of the mugs you threw on the potter’s wheel this month, usable or not. Make yourself a calendar page to put gold stars on. (Yes, seriously.) Record yourself doing a plank for as long as you can on Day 1, and Day 3, and Day 5, and so on. Then you can actually SEE the improvement.
Recording your progress is vital because when a change has actually happened, you aren’t going to remember where you started otherwise. It’s not only encouraging to see how far you’ve come; it also sets up a new precedent for your subconscious. Next time you try to make a change, the fight from your Self-Image will likely be a little less intense.
Tracking your progress will also cause you to push through your procrastination and recalcitrance. I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose my streak on Duolingo; I have 142 straight days of completing my French language lessons for the day. No way am I letting that get away from me!
It’s significantly easier to do battle with your Self-Image when you consciously know that you are working on something effective, and you can prove your results to yourself by tracking them.
I urge you to do whatever you have to do to continue toward your goals during this dreaded stage of change. I always believe that “knowing is half the battle” (Yo, Joe!), and I hope that the awareness that you’re not defective if you struggle through this early part of making a change will make it easier to continue toward what you want.
There’s a lot more to know about your Self-Image, and at some point, I’ll write a whole class on it for you. In the meantime, you can read my book, Troubleshooting the Law of Attraction, for a lot more information about it.
Tell me about your woes during the Chrysalis Phase at the Axion Center Facebook page. See you next week!