Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolutions and the Inevitability of Distraction

Happy New Year!

My kids, my friends, and my clients have been asking me about my New Year's resolutions for about a week now and instead, I've been thinking about other things.  Mostly on purpose because I'm kind of lazy and although I know I need change in my life, I don't really want to deal with the difficulty of it all.  Because as we all know, change is very difficult.

Whatever the reason you decide to change something in your life, you are probably already aware of just how hard change is to actually do.  Imagine trying to reverse the flow of a river.  Thousands of tons of force that began hundreds of miles away is virtually impossible to stop, much less force backward.  When we try and change our own personal behavior, we are dealing with years, if not decades of habit that developed from all of the influences in our lives:  our upbringing, our life experiences, our daily stresses, our tragedies, our triumphs, basically our personal history.  Change is uncomfortable, scary, and can bring about very unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, and fear.  
Even a river this small has tremendous momentum.

If you've ever met a former addict or alcoholic who is willing to share their journey with you, they will tell you that one of the hardest parts of getting sober is having to remember and deal with all of the emotions of their past without something to numb the pain and memories.  Alcohol and drugs can serve as a powerful distraction from those feelings.  As can food, smoking, avoiding social interaction, hyper-vigilance, obsessive behavior, etc.  Bottom line, change is hard and we are really good at distracting ourselves from making the changes in our lives that we know we need to be healthier and happier in the long run.  The unfortunate truth is that the short run can be absolutely miserable.
There is a fine line between medicine and poison.

Distractions can be good for us: playing a sport, gardening, travel, regular exercise.  Finding healthy distractions can help us to block out the noise and avoid being obsessed with bad memories and emotions they bring.  It has been shown that the strength of bad memories can be degraded when we visit them less frequently.  Some feelings are inevitable and necessary; the grief of losing a loved one for example.  But other feelings serve no purpose but to hold us back and tether us to a past we wish to be free from; shame, embarrassment, helplessness, fear.  Finding healthy ways to distract these feelings from holding us back is paramount to healthy change.  Relying solely on distractions, however, is not healthy.  Distractions can be a tool to allow us to revise our thinking and get us back to our main goal, however, they should not distract us from our lives entirely.

Are you avoiding your life by staring at your phone?

So, in thinking about the changes I want to incorporate into my life this year, I need to first identify the ways in which I've been distracting myself from making these changes already.  I encourage all of you to do the same.  Whether your goal is weight loss, exercising more, eating less, or being more present in your daily life, you have to identify the obstacles that have kept you from achieving these things in the past.  Know their names and they will cease to have power over you.  The changes won't be easy, but at least you will know what is likely to be blocking your path.

The second step is to identify the distractions that are going to make my path easier.  And then figure out how to incorporate them into my schedule.  I know that I am a much more contented person when I can get out into the woods for a walk, have my week planned in advance (including meals), and make time to just hang out with my kids doing nothing more than what we want to do at the moment.  I also know that anxiety will sometimes rear its ugly head and I just have to tell it to sit down and shut up.  Its not real and in reality there are very few things that warrant that kind of panic.

Once I accomplish those two things (which shouldn't really take more than an hour with all outside distractions turned off), the rest is simple.  Follow the path and be prepared for the obstacles.  The rest is just follow through. If there is a change in your life you've been having a hard time implementing, try this approach and see if it helps.    

As some food for thought, I listened to the TED radio hour this morning and there were several speakers talking about how to find happiness with less distraction.  If you have some time, take a listen, I can promise it will improve your outlook on 2017.  Enjoy!  And Happy New Year!

TED Radio Hour: Simply Happy