One of the hardest parts about sticking to a new healthier lifestyle is the dread that comes from thinking about how far you have to go to accomplish your goals. Whenever I have a big task in front of me, I can’t stop myself from getting overwhelmed by all the work I have to do. I think of all I have to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year…and it paralyzes me. Readers of this blog know I tend to procrastinate once in awhile (or more accurately, all of the time). This is a major source of my procrastination. I think it is also a major reason for why people fail at establishing new habits and accomplishing new goals.
The first day of packing your own lunch instead of ordering Thai food, or turning down the mid-morning doughnut, is easy. But on day two, day three? Your mind starts to wander. You start to think about how you’re going to have to pack your lunch every damn day, which means you’re going to have to plan ahead…go shopping…and then you start thinking “should I buy a real-deal lunch bag or use paper bags? Probably buy one, but which one, maybe I should check out Amazon…gosh there are so many choices. This one is highest rated but Prime shipping is only available for the orange color—can I pull off orange?” Then Karen announces there are plenty of muffins available in the break room and you should get in there before the banana nut is gone (why does she always insist on everyone getting a muffin? Does she own stock in the bakery?) How am I going to tell Karen I don’t want a damn muffin every. single. day. Also, when will my intense cravings go away? And when am I going to be able to have muffins again?
Fine Karen, I’ll split one with you.
You’re spiraling. Stop thinking about how hard it’s going to be tomorrow, or next week, or on your family vacation in April. You can’t tell the future. You can’t know what your cravings will be (have they always been persistent and consistent? Probably not); you can’t say how much energy you’ll have to exercise tomorrow. For all you know, you might be stronger and more committed with each passing day. Thinking about the future—and assuming that healthy eating and exercise will always feel as hard as it does now—is where we derive so much suffering when we’re trying to change.
Here’s what you can do instead:
When the feelings of anxiety overcome you, whispering weakness and doubt, stop and ask yourself, “Can I do it right now?”
Can I ride out this craving just for this moment—this hour?
The vast majority of the time, the answer is going to be yes, you can do it now. If you have to crawl through the day minute by minute, hour by hour—asking yourself “Can I do it now?”—do that. Make it through by staying present and committed to the hour in front of you.