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iStock 000005279893XSmallOur brain likes to choose the known over the unknown, even if we're not enjoying what's known and we know it's not good for us. This is highly inconvenient, but, like most things, came about out of good intentions. Our brain wants to keep us safe.

Fortunately we have the ability to make conscious choices and override our automatic responses if we choose to.
Even so, the pull to make the same old crappy choices, like:

- Another glass of wine
- Skip exercise today
- Leave the dishes til later
- Leave anything that needs to be done til later
- Doing some un-necessary shopping when we can't afford it
- Insert your crappy choices here

The pull to carry on with these familiar crappy choices can be very strong.

 

Somewhere within us we know we're copping out, so we'll make all sorts of excuses and justifications to ourselves as a way of avoiding facing our unpleasant truth. By not taking responsibility and choosing denial (you know, that big river in Egypt), we strengthen the neural pathways that are holding us in this rut, under the illusion that somehow this is safer.

The justifications can be things like:

- It's not my fault
- Nobody taught me how, I had no positive role models
- I'm ill, depressed, have an addiction, have anxiety disorder
- I'm not self disciplined and I don't know how to be
- I need to comfort and nurture myself because I've had so much pain
- "they" need to see what they've done to me
- I'm special, different and unique, so common sense doesn't apply to me
- Insert your excuses here

"Whoa! That's all a bit confronting. Leave me in peace in my lovely denial, I really am sick, you just don't understand" some will say to themselves. The truth is, some of us even get a feeling of importance out of our problems and worries at times.

We all have different standards for different things. For some of us health means being a vegan, raw food eating body builder with excellent cardio vascular fitness who never touches alcohol, and for others it means eating some vegetables, drinking some water and walking the dog sometimes, and if we're under a certain size, that will do just fine.

Having standards allows us to set some boundaries for ourselves. Perfectionism is not having high standards – it's no standards! It's not knowing when something is good enough, so you end up not starting things (all or nothing) or not knowing when to stop. Standards matter. When we have defined our own standards, we have a way of measuring how we are doing, and a way of creating boundaries for ourselves. How can you feel OK with yourself and build your sense of well being and self esteem if you don't have a clear idea of what is acceptable and desirable to you?

It's important that we let our own values guide our standards and our priorities. There are a bunch of things we value highly, but some will be more important to us than others. Placing importance on one thing doesn't have to be at the expense of everything else. Even Olympic athletes have other things in their lives, they just choose to limit them to dedicate time to training for a set period of time. There's no Olympics for sitting on the couch eating potato chips watching sitcoms and cop shows. You need to balance that stuff out with other things, (and sneak in some different snacks).

If you ask yourself where that vague gut feeling that all is not well, that nagging feeling of guilt or of feeling down on yourself because you ate another chocolate biscuit or because you stayed up too late watching TV and don't want to get up for work or whatever comes from – you'll find it's because you've broken your own rules, not lived up to your own standards, that you have what's called a cognitive dissonance – you're out of whack with your own values.

How to fix this?

Just two simple things really.

1. Get clear about your own values and standards, what you want and why, what you define as choices and actions you would be happy with. Ask yourself who you need to be for you to be able to entirely approve of yourself and feel as happy as you could be.

2. Make choices and decisions aligned with step one and carry them out. If you go off track, persist and get back on it.

I know it's freaky to take total responsibility for your life – it leaves you no way out, nowhere to go. The buck stops with you. Yes indeed, that is a doosy.

Here's the thing. There is no all or nothing. Not with taking responsibility for yourself, not with anything. We might generally be a person who takes responsibility, but occasionally we blame someone or something outside ourselves, or we tend to do it in one or some areas of our life. Sweeping the kitchen floor is worth doing even if we miss a bit and don't mop it. It needs doing again soon anyway. Making mistakes means we've had a go, that progress is made, something is maintained at some level, and that we've had an experience of the thing we can learn from. Experts were not made because those people waited around until the moment they would do it perfectly straight off.

To allow yourself to be flawed and to make mistakes requires that you allow yourself to be vulnerable and also requires that you trust yourself. When you trust yourself, you can be vulnerable because you believe in your ability to keep yourself safe, and in your innate worthiness.

Using excuses, reasons, justifications to protect ourselves may seem on the outside as expressing a sense of unfairness or anger towards others or the world in general. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge and express our feelings can certainly be healthy – but remember the purpose. What is the purpose of the feelings? They are like a compass to warn us of danger and guide us to what is good for us. We can control how well they serve their purpose, and make choices which will allow us to experience more positive emotions more of the time, sustainably and at a higher level. What I mean there is the difference between long term satisfying and sustainable happiness and well being as opposed to short lived and ultimately unsatisfying gratification and comfort.
As you see a choice come up, ask yourself what each option will give you, now and later.

It's OK to re-evaluate your standards and your decisions. Maybe that idea of running for an hour every morning before work does not serve you as well as another option which still allows you increased fitness. What would it give you? What else could give you that? How does it sit with the other things in your life that you want? Do you know what else in your life you want? Who decided what is important to you in your life? How much of it was outside yourself? Have you ever really thought about what you want and what really matters to you?

We don't, however, need to re-evaluate our standards and our decisions too often! Like I've said before, it's good to make decisions quickly and change them slowly. Whist you're doing some navel gazing and re-evaluating your priorities and your decisions and your values and your goals, you can still go right ahead and do those dishes, walk the dog, read your book, ring your Mum, spend time with your kids, cook a decent meal, drink your water, get a decent night's sleep and show up for work. When you get hooked up with your WHYs, decisions are easy to make. Improvements and tweaks can be made as you go along without abandoning the original decision.

How do you like your change? Dramatic and flamboyant with lots of significance attached and a camera crew, or quiet and unobtrusive and private? Neither is right or wrong, just wondering which you fancy. Bit of both maybe. You might be more externally or internally motivated. Some people find it really helpful to publicly commit to a change – the potential pain of embarrassment if you don't do it can be quite motivating, and you also get attention and recognition, which works great for some. Or you can get the reward without the risk by quietly making the change then sharing your success and enjoying the pats on the back. This kind of result can be enjoyed even further if you decide you want to help others make the same change. Or you might prefer the quiet sense of inner peace, harmony and satisfaction you get from carrying out your own plans without a fuss.
With all this in mind, and as you come to the next big or small choice which will present itself to you today, and as you meet the inevitable resistance to carrying out your own decision to:

- Order the salad, not the fried thing
- Brush your teeth now, before bed, as well as in the morning
- Have a drink of water instead of wine/coke/coffee....
- Stop and listen to what your child said and take an interest
- Empty the kitchen bin before it gets any fuller
- Switch off the TV for a bit and talk/walk/listen to music/ crochet/meditate....

...ask yourself what is the pain involved in doing it, what is the pain you will have later if you don't do it, can you just live with that short term pain for now, even laugh about it, make fun of it, and look at it not as pain but as something unfamiliar which won't hurt just this once, you can live with, really, and which could potentially become the new familiar.

Wow, this is getting long. You still reading? He he. You know what you need to do, and you know you can do it, and you also know that if it happens in bits and pieces, if it happens fast or slow or both, if it happens quietly or with lots of hoo ha, with help or on your own, what matters is that it's happening and that you are being true to who you really are – the real you who knows what really matters to you and deserves to have a go.

Comments   

#5 Jennifer Jameson 2013-08-06 04:09
Just the fact that I decided to attempt a comment is a new, somewhat scary decision. Your article hit it for me! I am not proficient with computers, but realized that I have been avoiding even the tiniest of efforts to learn. Thanks for a timely article. Jennifer, Portland, Oregon, USA
#4 Malcolm 2013-08-01 00:48
Yvette, Great article as usual! This particular writing is well timed for the strikes I am currently focused on. Thanks so much for the insights you have shared here. Looking forward to your next work. :-)
#3 Darlene 2013-07-19 01:33
:lol: :lol: You spoke dire@@ctly to me. Thanks
#2 Elba 2013-07-19 00:29
Great article! Thank you for posting. :-*
#1 Jennifer 2013-07-17 04:14
Thank you for this! Awesome, actionable advice as usual, and it came at just the right time for me!

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