We all encounter behaviors and patterns in our lives that, at some point, we try to change. It could be eating better, but it could also be quitting smoking, decreasing frivolous spending, or something else. Sometimes those changes are difficult enough that consulting a professional in the field is necessary. That’s where I come in, or in other instances a therapist, doctor, or maybe a financial advisor.
Change is hard, and I’ve found one of the most difficult changes to make is to change your own behavior.
That’s why having a strategy is essential. It’s also important to understand that the first approach you take may not always work, and that’s okay. You can and should learn from it and improve your chances of success each time you try to make the change.
When clients struggle to see this and hesitate to accept that a short-term failure can be a part of long-term success, I often direct them to an old Bob Newhart skit from MadTV called “Stop It.”
Here’s a YouTube link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw
Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.
For those who didn’t watch the video, here’s a quick synopsis: Bob Newhart plays a therapist who is seeing a new client. The client is surprised to hear that this therapist charges only five dollars for the first five minutes and a dollar per minute afterwards. She is assured that her problems should take no more than these five minutes to address. She recounts some of her issues including claustrophobia (specifically a fear of being buried alive in a box), inability to commit to relationships, and bulimia. The therapist listens and gives his novel advice: “Stop it!” The client explains that this doesn’t seem to be helpful. Newhart’s character considers this and offers a final piece of counsel: “Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!”
The skit is fantastically written and performed, but I share this with clients to point out how ridiculous it is to expect to just “stop it.” They’d probably be upset if a professional gave them this advice, yet people often give themselves the expectation to do so. There are certain people who can go cold turkey from smoking or change their eating habits at the drop of a hat, but they are few and far between. Usually the following is needed to make a change:
A strategy, particularly one that will work for you and your lifestyle. Individualization is essential. People can be successful with weight loss, but the path for each person to reach their goals is different.
A willingness to learn from setbacks and adjust. In the past I worked with eating disorder patients who often struggled in treatment for weeks or months before gaining confidence in changing their behaviors. We sometimes pointed out that there were “holes in the road to recovery.” Sometimes you fall in a hole. That’s okay. What’s important is that you pull yourself out, continue down the path, and be aware of where the next obstacle is likely to be so you can avoid it the next time around. Too often people give up on making changes the first time they get tripped up.
A support system. Family, friends, spouse, professional clinician, or all of the above. It’s much more difficult to make changes on your own and it’s also important to have someone to talk to about both your successes and your struggles.
A commitment to long-term change. Many people are successful initially with lifestyle changes. A far smaller number keep those changes long-term. When you start something, understand that these changes need to be tailored to last for the long haul, or it won’t do much good.
In summation, don’t expect yourself to just “stop it.” If it were that easy, you’d have made the change a long time ago.