Overcoming Black and White Thinking
Earlier this month, Forbes Magazine reported that roughly half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of those people actually achieve them. Some may consider that 8% to be incredibly low. However, I thought it was fairly impressive considering how unrealistic our thinking can be when it comes to our health, and how incredibly hard we are on ourselves when we prove to be, well…human.
I’ve met and worked with a lot of people for whom stress is a problem. I’m not talking about the kind of stress you feel when you are running five minutes late to an appointment. I’m talking about debilitating stress, loss of an income stress, taking care of an ailing parent stress, chronic health condition(s) stress, trying to fit a 30 hour to-do list in a 24 hour day, every day, stress. So as we start to talk about goals and the first steps to try to alleviate that stress, a lot of these hard-working, completely stressed out individuals define their first step as some sort of complete overhaul of their current life. Basically, they want to create more stress by completely changing the very systems, coping mechanisms, and behaviors that have been holding their lives together. Worse yet, guess who they’ve blamed in the past when this hasn’t worked? Themselves!
The fault lies not with the person; resisting additional stress is human, and of course everything in us is going to push back! The fault lies in the black and white thinking that limits our experience and keeps us stuck. This where we see the “in order to be healthy, I have to change everything” line of thinking. The “if I can’t go to the gym for an hour, I can’t exercise” line of thinking. The “I had a cookie and ruined my diet, so I might as well go to town all week” line of thinking. The “if I can’t do XY and Z, then I’m not going to do X, or Y, or Z” line of thinking. You get the point.
So how do you overcome this black or white thinking?
1. START SMALL. Achieving long-term health is a marathon, not a sprint. Complete overhauls are bound to initially set someone up for failure. This is not to say that you cannot eventually overhaul your life, of course you can! But initially when starting out, especially if you already have a lot going on, start small. Think of small things that you can do right now, today, or this week that will inch you in the right direction. There are action goals, thinking goals, and being goals. Depending on where you are and what you have going on, sometimes the best first steps are just thinking about how or when you will fit a health goal in, or trying to “be” or feel something (e.g “I will be present” or “I will feel gratitude”).
2. STAY POSITIVE. In the course of a day, we probably make at least a hundred positive, health-enhancing decisions. We wear a seatbelt. We take our medicines. We order a side salad. We laugh with our coworkers or friends. We focus while we are driving. We stop at two cookies (okay, four). We brush our teeth. And yet, we let the handful of not-so-great decisions overshadow the 95 positive ones we are making each day! Appreciate all the good choices you are making and all the healthy behaviors you are doing every single day.
3. WORK WITH, NOT AGAINST YOURSELF. If you know you only have 20 minutes to exercise three times a week, commit to that. Don’t try to convince yourself that you need to do spin class five days a week to get in shape. If you know that you cannot afford a gym, find ways to be active at home. If the thought of giving up your favorite food sends a chill down your spine, think about gently cutting back in a way that doesn’t create panic and terror. If you need help getting creative, or figuring out how to realistically incorporate new healthy behaviors into your life, reach out to a Wellview Health coach for ideas and support, that’s what we are here for!
Regardless of whether you are a “New Year’s resolution” person or not, for those who strive for healthier lives, we are making resolutions every day. The resolution is in our resolution. It’s in our resolve to be realistic in our timeline and accept where we are at this point in our lives. It’s in our resolve to do the best we can in each moment, and to focus on the positives. It’s in our resolve to forgive ourselves when we slip, because we will, and to brush ourselves off and keep moving forward, one decision at a time.