Have you ever had an instance where you texted your significant other on an early afternoon asking what he or she wanted to eat for dinner? And then, crickets.
Let’s call your significant other “Jamie.” You think to yourself, “This is odd. I am totally not a control freak, but Jamie doesn’t play games with me. Usually, the response is prompt. What if Jamie tripped on a brick and the phone fell right into the toilet? Are there bricks at Jamie’s work bathroom? If this was true, Jamie would probably email me or call me from a different phone and tell me. Well, what if Jamie got into an accident? Wait, Jamie doesn’t drive. Are there any accidents reported on Jamie’s commute line? There isn’t. Is Jamie upset with me? Is Jamie trying to send me a message? Was it the way I asked Jamie to take the trash out this morning?”
And this train of thought goes on for about an hour. You try to get some work done or turn on the TV on, but you keep checking your phone. You are paralyzed by fear. Either out of fear that your significant other has been injured, died, or is furious with you.
This is the story that we often create based on some piece of information, and you are not alone. Once I had gotten a call from my husband, and even before he had a chance to say hello, I immediately said, “I’ll call you right back,” and I hung up. I did call him right back exactly a minute later, and he did not pick up. I immediately worried that I caused him to get into an accident somehow.
Maybe I should have waited for him to say hello first to make sure he was alright. Maybe he got into serious trouble or got pulled over and he is talking to the police. Maybe he can’t answer because he is injured. I called him eight times in a row until he finally texted me to stop calling because he is in the middle of an important phone call.
You and I are both capable of creating our own realities, and we often behave in a way based on the constructed reality that has been created. How we spent the next minute or hour in the above examples was completely dependent on this newly created reality that we ourselves had created.
But these realities and beliefs are not always this dramatic. I get up in the morning because of the belief that if I don’t wake up, I am probably going to be late to work or just feel behind. I eat breakfast because of the belief that it is good for me and it is going to affect the way I feel and perform throughout the day, so I make it a priority to get healthy food in my system before I get started in the day. I forego coffee and take vitamins instead because of the belief that coffee makes me feel more groggy and vitamins will improve my immune system more effectively. While some of these beliefs are backed by evidence, not all of them are pure facts. Yet, I decide to act on them, which completely control the way I behave for the rest of the day.
If beliefs are what drives our behavior, this is the crux of behavioral change: change in belief. What is the biggest thing you want to accomplish but have not been able to yet? It could have something to do with your health, your career, your family, or your life. It could be anything. Let’s tackle one of the most common challenges: I want to exercise more regularly.
Has this “to-do” been on your list for way too long? Maybe the last time you went to the gym was two days ago and you skipped yesterday. Maybe the last time you went was two months ago. It doesn’t matter.
The first question to ask is, what is the belief that I have right now?
It could be:
I don’t have time.
I am tired.
I don’t want to.
Often, we equate “I don’t want to” as “I can’t.” They are not. First, you can get rid of the statement “I can’t” right away because it is not going to help with changing your beliefs. The first belief to instill in yourself is that “I can’t” is not true. You can.
Second, just change “I don’t want to” into “I want to.”
If it is “I don’t have time,” change that to “I have time.”
If it is “I am tired,” change that to “I am not tired.” It’s that simple.
Still having trouble? Be 100% clear about the why and the how.
Ask yourself the why:
First, your purpose has to serve your identity, which is shaped by your values. What do you value? Do you value discipline, happiness, and strength?
Second, think back to the last time you went to work out. What did it do for you? Did it serve your values? Did it make you feel disciplined, happy, and strong? If yes, then you have figured out your why. If not, you do not have a reason to get on with your exercise.
Ask yourself the how:
Do not make this hard. Do not take more than 5 minutes coming up with a 30 minute workout. If you have trouble finding what to do even after the 5 minutes are over, simply get on the treadmill. And schedule a time on your calendar where you will figure out what you want to do next. You can keep running. You can write down a set of exercises. Download an app. Hire a trainer. Whatever makes the best sense to you. You are treating yourself, and you are making this a priority, so don’t feel guilty about spending energy or money on this.
Once you have the why and the how, you have a straight path to the community gym or the basement gym or even the yoga mat next to your desk.
Congratulations, you just moved the needle.
Apply these steps to everything else. Start with things that you have complete control over, like the food you buy, the classes you take, and the books you decide to read. Stay away from things you cannot control, like when someone is going to respond back to you, when you are going to get your dream job, and how soon that pimple on your forehead will go away. Once you focus on what you have control over and master your own control, the things you do not have control over will no longer dictate your reality.